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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 07:23 GMT
Celebrating the life of Rosa Parks
By Daniela Relph
BBC News, Detroit

File photograph of Rosa Parks in 1999
Mrs Parks' protest inspired a generation of activists
It felt nothing like a funeral. There was little sign of any sombre dress. There weren't many tears.

There was no sense that Detroit was a city in mourning.

This was a pure and simple celebration of a life and an exhilarating event to attend.

In her death, Rosa Parks has been on her travels so that an entire nation could pay tribute to her courage.

First her body was taken back to Montgomery in Alabama where 50 years ago she refused to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man and helped spark the modern civil rights movement.

Then she went to Washington, where she was honoured by becoming the first woman to lie in repose on Capitol Hill - an honour usually reserved for presidents.

And then her body was taken to Detroit, her adopted home, where she came to shelter when the harassment and threats in Alabama became overwhelming.

'Lifetime of dignity'

The mourners queued for hours outside the imposing Greater Grace Temple.

Rosa Parks showed us every single day what it means to be free
Former President Bill Clinton
But no one really wanted to be described as a mourner.

They were here as guests at a national event, saying thank you to a woman who changed America forever.

Despite the Detroit chill the dress code was Sunday best - a grand send-off for a woman who had made a grand gesture.

"Rosa Parks was a hero of the 20th Century," said one mourner, Geraldine Davis.

"I owe it to her to come and pay my respects."

Many of those attending the funeral arrived, fittingly, on Detroit city buses adorned with a wreath and the words: "In honourable memory of Rosa Parks."

Inside the Greater Grace Temple, friends and family sat alongside a former president, civil rights leaders, musicians and politicians. It was an indication of the impact Mrs Parks made on so many.

Former President Bill Clinton recounted his experiences of segregation as a white schoolboy from the south in the 1950s.

He spoke of the shame he felt back then, having to sit with his white friends only - until Mrs Parks changed everything.

"Let us never forget that in that simple act and a lifetime of race and dignity, Rosa Parks showed us every single day what it means to be free," he said, to cheers.

Musical tribute

Despite the impressive list of illustrious speakers, it was the musical soundtrack to this service that was so compelling.

A military honour guard accompanies Rosa Parks' coffin to her funeral in Detroit
Gospel singers greeted mourners at the church
Never more so than the moment Aretha Franklin stood at the front of the church and filled the temple with her distinctive voice.

As she began you could hear the gasps, the intake of breath from the congregation and the sheer power of this musical tribute.

Franklin brought the Greater Grace Temple to its feet.

Rosa Parks' family assured everyone she would have loved the service, not because of what anyone said about her, but because of its passion and energy.

It encompassed the life of a woman who 50 years ago sat down, so that all of America could eventually stand up.

See pictures from Rosa Parks' life and funeral

Rosa Parks' body flown to Detroit
01 Nov 05 |  Americas
Civil rights icon Parks honoured
31 Oct 05 |  Americas
Obituary: Rosa Parks
25 Oct 05 |  Americas
Rosa Parks: Your tributes
25 Oct 05 |  Have Your Say

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