DETROIT – Thousands of visitors, hundreds of dignitaries, scores of civil rights figures and regular folks, and two cities she called home – all wanting to mourn civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Montgomery, Ala., and Detroit have shaken hands and worked out a deal that will benefit everybody.

And it’s looking like more of them are leaning toward attending the formal funeral in Detroit, which will offer the opportunity for major civil rights figures and politicians to speak along with a host of other world leaders.

“I would rather be at the actual funeral,” said Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “For me to be in Detroit, I’m familiar with the people there who worked with her in her later years. I chose Detroit because that’s where she spent the last part of her life.”

Montgomery was Parks’ home for most of her early life and the scene of her famous refusal to cede her bus seat to a white man in 1955.

Detroit has been her home since 1957, when she fled the South looking for a job.

On Wednesday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus discussed the legacy of Rosa Parks and were working out details of which services to attend.

Right now, caucus members are leaning toward Detroit because that is where the funeral will be, said Paul Brathwaite, the executive director of the caucus.

Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will attend services in both cities but are especially involved in the Montgomery services.

While the Wednesday funeral in Detroit will be the climactic event, the most public ceremony in Motown will be when Parks lies in state Tuesday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Huge crowds are expected to line up as long – if not longer – as the viewing processional for former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young in 1997, when 90,000 mourners viewed Young’s body over two days.

The museum will be open Tuesday for viewing from 6 a.m. until midnight.

When Young “passed away, there was a steady stream of traffic from the moment we opened the door until after we closed,” said Norine Howie, a museum official. “We do anticipate similar crowds. … We’re patterning this viewing on” the viewing for Young.

The arrangements could have been a logistical nightmare. But so far, so good, officials in both cities say. Cooperation between Detroit and Montgomery began thanks to a lucky break.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s spokeswoman, Ceeon Quiett, is a former Montgomery resident who has several contacts within the administration of Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright.

Quiett contacted Bright’s offices to propose cooperating on planning, and Montgomery leaders immediately accepted, said Michael Briddle, an executive assistant to Bright.

Bright and Kilpatrick also spent some time together at this year’s North American International Auto Show, a meeting Briddle said also proved key to getting cooperative efforts off the ground. Bright visited because the Hyundai Sonata is made in Montgomery.

Bright will attend funeral services in Detroit, Briddle said.

“We respect them for initiating the contact and devising the concept,” he said. “Because Mrs. Parks spent the first half of her life in Alabama and the second half of her life in Detroit, it was a natural partnership.”

Quiett said the two cities have focused on continuous communication to keep each other abreast of their activities.

“As major decisions are being made, both cities are part of those decisions,” she said. “From the beginning, it’s been in the spirit of cooperation. She’s been a significant part of both cities. Her legacy, her handprint, is deeply rooted in both cities, Detroit and Montgomery.”

The Detroit-Montgomery link is anything but coincidental. Like Parks, thousands of African-Americans fled the South for northern cities in hopes of escaping rampant racism and finding decent paying jobs.



(c) 2005, Detroit Free Press.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-26-05 2038EDT


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