MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Rosa Parks, the mother of the modern civil rights movement, returned Saturday to the place where she helped to start a revolution. From the moment the plane touched down carrying her body, a city stood up to pay respects to the woman who refused to stand up for a white man 50 years ago.

“I’ve come here to honor, to show respect, to say “Thank you,’ to say “God speed and bless you for what you did for us,”‘ said Bill Madison, president of the Columbus, Ga., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Parks’ body arrived in Montgomery on a Southwest Airlines flight from Detroit about noon central time. A water arch formed by two Montgomery fire trucks doused the plane as it taxied on the runway. More than 100 dignitaries and city officials greeted Parks’ casket and the Detroit contingent traveling with her. The group included family members, federal appeals court Judge Damon Keith, entertainer Cicely Tyson, Elaine Steele, and Parks’ longtime personal assistant and former Judge Adam Shakoor.

Parks died Monday at age 92. She will be buried Wednesday in Detroit after tributes in Montgomery and Washington.

In a mile-long motorcade Saturday, Parks’ casket was driven along an avenue now named in her honor. The apartment where she lived sits vacant on Rosa L. Parks Avenue. Residents came out of their houses and apartments to watch the procession, wave or salute.

The motorcade then weaved downtown to the corner where she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955, the action that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and led to the eventual desegregation of public transportation in the South.

Parks’ remains were driven to Bryant Missionary Baptist Church, where the casket was transferred to a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage – followed by hundreds of people who marched to the steady sound of a drum – traveled two blocks to St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Parks was a member when she lived in Montgomery.

Hundreds of people formed a line on the street outside St. Paul to view Parks’ body. Her family and friends sat in the pews as young and old filed in to pay their respects.

Parks was dressed in a white deaconess dress she once wore to church and a black hat. Her hands were covered with a lace material, as was part of the casket. After filing past her, many commented on how well she looked.

Keith, a longtime friend of Parks, also marveled at how beautiful and peaceful Parks looked in her casket. “Isn’t she gorgeous?” he asked.

“This is history repeating itself, to see the love and affection for this great woman,” Keith said. “It’s inspiring to me that her living was not in vain and she has left a true legacy for all of us, a legacy of freedom and justice and equality and courage.”

Added Tyson: “I’ve known Mrs. Parks for some time now, and the one thing I’ve garnered from my relationship with her was her quiet strength. That same strength comes through even in death.

“Her chin is just as strong,” said Tyson, who played Parks’ mother in a 2002 TV movie, “The Rosa Parks Story.” “She’s got that same strength. It’s eminent in her face, and that to me is the most startling thing. I can feel it; it’s that strong.”

The Rev. James Ashe Jr., pastor of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, was momentarily the last man standing in line at 3 p.m. That lasted for only a second, as dozens continued to line up behind him. Ashe said he was unconcerned with how long it would take for him to see Parks; any wait was worth it.

“I left Montgomery to go to Detroit the year before the boycott started because I was tired of it not being integrated, and wanted a better life for myself,” said Ashe, 71, who lived on Detroit’s west side from 1954 to 1956 and worked as a maintenance man in a building near Wayne State University. “When I came back, it was different here, and I know that’s because of what Rosa Parks did.”

(c) 2005, Detroit Free Press.

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