President George W. Bush, members of Congress and ordinary Americans paid tribute to Rosa Parks under the soaring dome of the Capitol Rotunda on Sunday, honoring the woman whose defiant act on a city bus challenged race segregation in the South and inspired the U.S. civil rights movement.
Parks, a former seamstress, became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda, sharing an honor bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and other U.S. leaders. Bush and congressional leaders paused to lay wreaths by her casket, while members of a university choir greeted her with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Parks was arrested in 1955 after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, and turned to her minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King, for aid. King in turn led a 381-day black boycott of the city's bus system that helped initiate the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, in whose Detroit congressional office Parks worked, said the ceremony and public viewing showed "the legacy of Rosa Parks is more than just a success for the civil rights movement or for African-Americans. It means it's a national honor."
Outside the Capitol, as flags flew at half-staff, thousands of people awaited the chance to pay their respects, some arriving before noon. Some carried signs that read, "Thank you, Rosa Parks."
The crowd cheered loudly when the motorcade, led by Parks' hearse and a vintage D.C. Metro bus, arrived. Her casket was carried from the hearse by a military honor guard while Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, a Michigan Democrat, stood with family members and friends outside the steps leading up to the Capitol and prayed.
Senate chaplain Barry Black, bowing his head in prayer, said Parks' courage "ignited a movement that aroused our national conscience" and served as an example of the "power of fateful, small acts."
Bush, who did not speak during the brief ceremony, issued a proclamation Sunday ordering the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff over all public buildings on Wednesday, the day of Parks' funeral and burial in Detroit.
The president and first lady Laura Bush were joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, temporary House majority leader Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and dozens more members of Congress, AP reported. V.A.