Funeral Speakers Urge Public to Continue Parks' Legacy

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A seven-hour funeral celebrating the life of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks (search) was not only a day of remembrance for the 4,000 mourners who gathered, but also a call to action.

As more than three dozen people spoke of how Parks' historic act of defiance on a Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955 changed the course of history, many urged Americans to continue her legacy.

"You ought to make one commitment in her name to yourself. You ought to resolve that you are going to do something that makes a difference because we're here because she made a difference," said the Rev. Al Sharpton (search).

Parks died Oct. 24 at the age of 92. Her funeral Wednesday followed a week of remembrances during which Parks' coffin was brought from Detroit to Montgomery, where she sparked the civil rights movement by refusing to give her bus seat to a white man, to Washington, where she became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

Members of Congress and national civil rights leaders filled the pews of Greater Grace Temple church Wednesday for the service, which featured songs by Aretha Franklin (search) and mezzo-soprano Brenda Jackson, who sang a soaring version of the Lord's Prayer.

"The world knows of Rosa Parks because of a single, simple act of dignity and courage that struck a lethal blow to the foundations of legal bigotry," said former President Clinton, who presented Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.

Parks was a 42-year-old tailor's assistant at a Montgomery department store in December 1955 when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus. Her act triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Parks and her husband, Raymond, moved to Detroit in 1957, after they lost their jobs and faced harassment and death threats in Montgomery.

Elaine Eason Steele, Parks' longtime personal assistant, said the civil rights pioneer would have loved Wednesday's ceremony.

"Rosa Parks has enjoyed it," Steele said. "She loved good preaching. She loved good political talk."

After the funeral, Parks' casket was put on an antique gold-trimmed black wooden horse-drawn carriage for the seven-mile procession to Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery (search).

But because of the late hour and the time it would take for the procession to reach the cemetery by horse, the casket was removed from the carriage about a block into the trip and placed in a white antique hearse for the rest of the journey.

The crowd of onlookers clapped and yelled "Rosa!" as the hearse continued down the street, escorted by riders on galloping horses.

Two sets of doves were released, a U.S. Marine in a dress uniform played the bagpipes and there was a 21-gun salute, before Parks' flag draped coffin was taken into the mausoleum.

Rodney Brown, 12, of Detroit stood with family members singing "We Shall Overcome" and holding lit candles as the hearse passed by.

As Sharon King, 49, of Chicago, watched the procession, she made what she called a "Rosa pledge."

"I'm going back home and joining somebody's organization to make a difference in our community," she said. "I'm definitely not going to let her legacy die."