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Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, Julian Bond, Dorothy Height & Others Pay Tribute to Civil Rights Pioneer Rosa Parks

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On Monday, thousands of mourners filled the Metropolitian AME church in Washington for a memorial service for the late Rosa Parks, who died last week at the age of 92. Over the past two days, more than 40,000 people filed past her casket in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Monday where her body had lain in honor. She was the first civilian and only second woman or African-American to receive such an honor. Speakers at Monday’s memorial included Oprah Winfrey, actress Cicely Tyson, NAACP chair Julian Bond, civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height, Parks’ childhood friend Johnnie Carr, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and NAACP President Bruce Gordon. [includes rush transcript]

Rosa Parks is the first woman and only the second African-American to receive the honor of lying in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, usually reserved for Presidents, soldiers and politicians. Rosa Parks died at her home in Detroit, Michigan last week. She was 92 years old. Fifty years ago this December, she refused to give up her seat to a white man aboard a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested and convicted of violating the state’s segregation laws. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would spark the civil rights movement and inspire freedom struggles all over the world.

After 10am on Monday morning, the casket was taken down the steps of the East Capitol by a military honor guard of pallbearers, followed by the Parks family. A vintage Metropolitan bus dressed in black bunting followed the hearse, along with other city buses to the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church for a public memorial. More than 2,500 mourners filled the church and hundreds crowded onto sidewalks and into the auditorium of a nearby office building to hear or see broadcasts of the 2 1/2 -hour service. Speakers included civil rights leaders, congressmembers, senators, pastors and longtime friends of Rosa Parks.

  • Reverend Grainger Browning Jr, pastor of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland
  • Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-D.C.)
  • Dorothy Height, longtime civil rights activist and president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women
  • Johnnie Carr, Rosa Parks’ Childhood Friend and veteran of the Montgomery bus boycott
  • Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
  • Oprah Winfrey, the Oprah Winfrey Show, born in Mississippi during segregation
  • Cicely Tyson, award-winning African-American actress, played Rosa Parks in the movie "The Rosa Parks Story"
  • Bruce Gordon, NAACP President

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Grainger Browning was the first to speak. He said he expected many from his flock to attend the tribute at the capitol because members of the Parks family were long-time members of the church.

REV. GRAINGER BROWNING, JR.: Can we all take somebody by the hand [inaudible] unity as we go to God in a word of prayer. Eternal God, our Father, we come today despite our sorrows, despite our grief, to say thank you, because you are still the god of our weary years and the god of our silent tears. You’re still the one that has brought us thus far along the way. And on today we want to say thank you for the hall of fame and the hall of faith and the cloud of witnesses that now encompass over us.

We say thank you for Jarena Lee and Richard Allen for inspiring us. We say thank you for Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass for liberating us. We say thank you for Sojourner Truth and Nat Turner for emancipating us. We say thank you for Mary McLeod Bethune and Benjamin Mays for educating us. We say thank you for Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Turrell and WEB DuBois and A. Philip Randolph for organizing us. We say thank you for Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes for writing for us. We say thank you for Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson and James Cleveland, Thomas Dorsey for singing for us. We say thank you today for Fannie Lou Hamer and Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm and C. Delores Tucker, we say thank you for them involving us.

But on today, most of all, we want to say thank you for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and we say thank you, dear Lord, for the mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks. We say thank you for her loving us. We say thank you for having courage for us. We say thank you for her quiet strength. And now on this day, dear Lord, we want to say thank you that death still has no sting, and the grave still has no victory, and Rosa Parks is not dead, but her life and legacy is still alive. And we give your name beyond the praise and the glory.

But even though she’s still alive, racism is still alive, sexism is still alive, classism is still alive, poverty is still alive, injustice is still alive. So, on today, dear Lord, we redouble our efforts to carry on her legacy, to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you, our God. So today we want to say thank you . We praise you. We glorify you that we too pray that you’ll bless and comfort the family. Give them the strength that they need to run on to see what the end is going to be. And when it’s all said and done, we pray that we, too, will hear you say, "Well done, thy good and faithful servant."

And we say thank you that when Rosa Parks got to heaven, she cast her crowns at your throne. But then she took her seat with the 420 elders besides Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. And we want to say thank you. It was finally she was able to say, "Free at last, free at last, thank God, almighty, we are free at last." In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. Amen. And amen.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Grainger Browning, Jr., pastor of the Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, speaking at the memorial for Rosa Parks. Congress member Eleanor Holmes Norton served as the head of ceremony. She is the Washington, D.C. delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, in the 1960s a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She later served as the Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Congress member Holmes joined members of the Congressional Black Caucus in efforts that succeeded in getting Congress to allow Rosa Parks to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Sunday and Monday. This is D.C. Congress member Norton speaking at the memorial.

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: My good friends, when Congress broke with precedent and voted to allow Rosa Parks to lie in honor — to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda, we commemorated more than the great Civil Rights Movement that her act of civil disobedience initiated. We recognized the unique and extraordinary contribution of an African American woman to her country. Her simple act of civil disobedience in refusing to relinquish her seat on demand from a white man on a segregated bus was the functional equivalent of a nonviolent shot heard around the world.

Grievances like those of African Americans, over 400 years of slavery and humiliating discrimination had been resolved by violent revolution throughout human history. Our country is enormously in Rosa Parks’s debt, because the revolution that led to the end of government and legally sanctioned discrimination began with a nonviolent revolutionary act, setting an example that endured. The significance of Rosa Parks’s peaceful defiance of segregation went well beyond her impact on the great men and women who led our movement or the inspiration she gave to kids like me to do sit-ins.

The act of one gentle woman led to the first mass movement for equal rights. And it was so large, so insistent and so effective that its demands became impossible to refuse. This movement was Rosa Parks’s special gift to her people and to those who joined them. If I may say so, my friends, especially the residents of the District of Columbia who still feed from her inspiration to achieve equality with other Americans, including equal voting rights in the Congress of the United States of America! In great humility, Rosa Parks’s gift was not the message, 'I am doing this to free you.' Her message was far more direct: Free yourselves. Thank you, my friends. Free yourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.'s delegate to the House of Representatives. Dorothy Height, long-time civil rights leader and President Emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women also spoke at the memorial. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women, beginning from the time she joined the national staff of the YWCA in 1944. Dorothy Height served as President of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. During the 1960s she organized Wednesdays in Mississippi, which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding. Dorothy Height worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other prominent civil rights activists and was presented with the Citizens Medal Award for Distinguished Service in 1989 by President Reagan. She has also been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. This is Dorothy Height.

DOROTHY HEIGHT: I know that I express the feelings of all of us, but at the same time, the only tribute that I could think of was to share with you what Rosa Parks, I heard, say 50 years ago, shortly after — toward the end of the boycott. She was answering the question: Why did she do what she did? And she said, "I had been to Monteagle, Tennessee to the Highland Folk School, which was run by Myles Horton, and every day at the worship service there was someone who would give a service, but the theme they kept saying was, 'You are a child of God. You could make a difference.'"

And she said she was tired, of course, after a day’s work. But when she got to the bus and she paid her fare at the front of the bus, got off the bus as colored people were expected to do and went to the back of the bus to get on the bus and she sat in the colored section, and suddenly the white section filled up, and she was asked to take what she would have had to do was to move the sign — the colored sign one seat back and move a seat back and give her seat to a white man. And she said, "I just felt tired, sick and tired of giving in to a system so unjust." And she said it in her gentle manner, but with the same vigor as the prophets of old did as they struck injustice.

And she said it suddenly seemed to her that she could hear a small voice saying, "Rosa Parks, you’re a child of God. You can make a difference." And so she remained in her seat. And what a difference she made. What a difference she made for the United States of America, not just for herself.

And today, as we celebrate, I think it’s up to all of us to know that what Rosa Parks started, what the Civil Rights Movement achieved was a great deal — we’ve made progress. But we have a long way to go. And we need that same spirit. And each of us, from this celebration, should remember Rosa Parks, and her message would certainly be: "You are a child of God. You can make a difference." Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Dorothy Height, long-time civil rights activist and President Emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women, speaking at Rosa Parks’s memorial. Dorothy Height is 93. Also in attendance was her elder, Johnnie Carr, 94 years old, an elementary school friend of Rosa Parks and President of the Montgomery Improvement Association. Johnnie Carr is a veteran of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She also spoke.

JOHNNIE CARR: We are today — we are today honoring, honoring, a great person. I’m happy to say that I had the privilege when we were little girls to go to school together [inaudible] sixth or seventh grade in a private school for girls in Montgomery, Alabama. And from that day almost to this day we have been close friends. God has blessed me to have had the opportunity to know Rosa, a quiet, very quiet, unassuming young girl in school. In all of her life that I have known her, she seemed to have been that type of person. I could not envision in my mind when ED Nixon called me on December the First, 1955, to say to me, "Mrs. Carr, they have arrested another woman." And I said, "Who is it, Nick?" He said, "Rosa Parks." And these are my words: "You’re kidding." "You’re kidding," because I just knew.

Rosa and I had worked together in the NAACP for many years. If it was not secretary for Rosa and youth council for Johnnie, vice versa. But we had worked together in the organization. We knew the things that we were suffering as citizens of these United States of America. And I feel that in her heart, as in my heart, we had the idea that if there was any way possible to do anything to help it, we would have done it, to change the things that we were suffering. White and colored fountains, white and colored entrances, everything you could see was segregated. Where I live and have been living there more than 60 years, right in front of my door is a public park. My children could not attend that public park because it was segregated.

So, so much had to happen in our lives, and things had gone on, 'til I feel like on December the First, 1955, Rosa Parks said, "Enough is enough. Ain't going to take it no more." So at that point, when God gave her the strength not to relinquish her seat on that City Line bus that day but to sit there and say, "If I must suffer, I will suffer today," because when the bus driver — when the policeman told — when the bus driver told her that he would have her arrested, and she quietly said, "You may do that," what do you think was going on in her mind knowing the things that had happened before to our people who had been arrested and whatever had happened? But today, I would like to say that we are celebrating the home-going of a character, a true trooper, a true server, a person who has given much to make this whole world a better place for all of us to live.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Johnnie Carr, veteran of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and elementary school friend of Rosa Parks. When we come back, Julian Bond, Chair of the NAACP; Oprah Winfrey; Cicely Tyson; Congress member John Conyers, and more.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now in the memorial service that took place at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C., packed with thousands of people, many more outside listening through loudspeakers, Julian Bond, Chair of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

JULIAN BOND: We are gathered here to say goodbye and well done to Rosa Louise McCauley Parks. She leaves us as she lived her life with honor and dignity. She was daughter, sister, wife, aunt and mother to the Movement. But she was more than that. She leaves us just short of the 50th anniversary of the day she showed the world you can stand up for your rights by sitting down. Her actions produced a movement and introduced America to a new leader. Dr. King said she was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone by and the boundless aspirations of generations yet to come.

Now, she wasn’t the first to refuse to surrender to Montgomery’s apartheid. There had been Claudette Colvin, there had been Mary Louise Smith and countless others before her, those who believed they had rights just like any other citizen. But Rosa Parks was the first person to plead not guilty; for her, breaking Alabama law was obeying the Constitution. It was defending justice. She was tired, alright. She was tired of mistreatment. She was tired of second class citizenship. But, you know, she didn’t want to be known as the bus woman. She was much, much more than that.

A historian writes, "Although Martin Luther King played crucial role in transforming a local boycott into a social justice movement, he was, himself, transformed by a movement he did not initiate." In Montgomery, the boycott owed its success to what a historian calls the self-reliant NAACP stalwarts who acted on their own before King could lead. Rosa Parks was first among those NAACP stalwarts. She had been active with the NAACP for more than a decade before the boycott began. When it began, she was secretary to the Alabama NAACP state conference. She was secretary to the Montgomery branch of the NAACP. She was advisor to the youth council of the NAACP. She was secretary to the Alabama Voters League. But she was more than that.

She was secretary to the Montgomery branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the pioneering black union, led nationally by A. Philip Randolph and locally by ED Nixon. She writes in her biography that Mr. Nixon once told her, "Women don’t belong nowhere but in the kitchen." She said, "Mr. Nixon, what about me?" He said, "You’re a good secretary, and I need one." But she was more than that.

She became such an icon in American history and popular culture that the Neville Brothers immortalized her. They sang, "Thank you, Ms. Rosa. You were the spark that started our freedom movement. Thank you, Sister Rosa Parks." She was a long-time fighter for justice in Alabama. She and her husbands were strong defenders of the Scottsboro Boys. She fought for their freedom. She was active in the NAACP. But she was more than that.

Nine years ago she delivered the eulogy at the funeral for Robert Williams, much as we are eulogizing her today. For those of you who don’t remember, Williams was the NAACP president in Monroe, North Carolina. He answered Klan attacks bullet for bullet. For his courage, the NAACP expelled him. The State of North Carolina made him a criminal. And he found safety and sanctuary in Cuba and China. He became an all but forgotten man. In 1996, an elderly Rosa Parks, the exemplar of nonviolence, stood in a church pulpit in Monroe, North Carolina. She was glad, she said, to finally attend the funeral of a heroic black leader who had escaped the assassin’s bullet and lived a long and happy life. The work that he did, she said, should go down in history and never be forgotten.

It was my great pleasure to have known her over the years, giving me precious memories of the time we were together. I was once speaking in Detroit. And when the event was over, my host asked me if I would like to go out for a drink with Rosa Parks. Of course, I said yes. Ms. Parks had Coca-Cola. She turned to me, and she said, "Julian, what are you doing now? Where are you living?" I said, "Mrs. Parks, I’ve moved to Washington, D.C. I just saw you on TV. You and Jesse Jackson were picketing the Greyhound bus station in support of the striking bus drivers." And I said, "You know, Mrs. Parks, I’ve just taken a job at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It’s too close and too expensive to fly there. The train isn’t convenient. The best way to get there from D.C. is by bus." And in her sweet, calm, quiet, respectful, gentle manner Ms. Parks said, "Don’t you ride that bus!"

Now, Ms. Parks was much, much more than the bus woman. She was much, much more than that. Eldridge Cleaver famously remarked that when she sat down that December day in Montgomery 50 years ago, somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery had shifted. Rosa Parks shifted the gears of the universe all her life. Now she belongs to the universe . Thank you, Sister Rosa. Thank you, Rosa Parks.

AMY GOODMAN: NAACP Chair, Julian Bond. Oprah Winfrey also attended the memorial service. She was born in Mississippi during segregation, 1954. She also spoke.

OPRAH WINFREY: I feel it an honor to be here to come and say a final goodbye. I grew up in the South, and Rosa Parks was a hero to me long before I recognized and understood the power and impact that her life embodied. I remember my father telling me about this colored woman who had refused to give up her seat . And in my child’s mind, I thought, "She must be really big." I thought she must be at least 100 feet tall. I imagined her being stalwart and strong and carrying a shield to hold back the white folks. And then I grew up and had the esteemed honor of meeting her. And wasn’t that a surprise. Here was this petite, almost delicate lady who was the personification of grace and goodness. And I thanked her then. I said, "Thank you, for myself and for every colored girl, every colored boy, who didn’t have heroes who were celebrated." I thanked her then.

And after our first meeting I realized that God uses good people to do great things. And I’m here today to say a final thank you, Sister Rosa, for being a great woman who used your life to serve, to serve us all. That day that you refused to give up your seat on the bus, you, Sister Rosa, changed the trajectory of my life and the lives of so many other people in the world. I would not be standing here today nor standing where I stand every day had she not chosen to sit down. I know that. I know that. I know that. I know that, and I honor that. Had she not chosen to say we shall not — we shall not be moved.

So I thank you again, Sister Rosa, for not only confronting the one white man whose seat you took, not only confronting the bus driver, not only for confronting the law, but for confronting history, a history that for 400 years said that you were not even worthy of a glance, certainly no consideration. I thank you for not moving.

And in that moment when you resolved to stay in that seat, you reclaimed your humanity and you gave us all back a piece of our own. I thank you for that. I thank you for acting without concern. I often thought about what that took, knowing the climate of the times and what could have happened to you, what it took to stay seated. You acted without concern for yourself and made life better for us all. We shall not be moved. I marvel at your will. I celebrate your strength to this day. And I am forever grateful, Sister Rosa, for your courage, your conviction. I owe you to succeed. I will not be moved.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Oprah at the memorial service for Rosa Parks. Cicely Tyson, award-winning African American actress, born and raised in Harlem, New York, also spoke. In 1974, Tyson won two Emmy Awards for perhaps her best known role as the lead character in the TV drama, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. She won two Emmy Awards for her performance. Tyson also had a supporting role in the 1977 television mini-series, Roots. Cicely Tyson has played many acclaimed TV and movie roles, consistently portraying positive images of African American women. In 2002, she played Rosa Parks in the movie The Rosa Parks Story. This is Cicely Tyson at the memorial.

CICELY TYSON: I do believe that the reason why Rosa Parks did not move when ordered to do so was because she knew that King Jesus was her driver, and she was not to move. She was like a tree planted by the water, and she was not to be moved. I tell you, she was climbing Jacob’s ladder, and she was not to be moved. Climbing Jacob’s ladder, and she was not to be moved. I have to tell you that last night, yesterday, when I viewed her body, I was stunned by the strength that came from her face. Even in death, it was there.

I remember when I was asked — I was given the role of Jane Pittman, I said, "Lord, where will I find the strength to do this?" I knew that there was certain aspects of her life that I could handle. But then there were others, the other part which I knew nothing about. And I prayed and I prayed, and one morning I got up, and I remember Rosa Parks just putting a dime in the bus — remember when you touch a dime the next time — a dime in the bus, sat down, and changed the course of history for all of us.

I am going to take the liberty, congressional Eleanor Holmes, to put myself in the place of Mrs. Johnnie Carr. Congress — Where is she? Did she leave? Congresswoman? In any case, I think on a par with both of them. So I’m going to take a little time to give you some advice from my old friend Jane, who said, "Let me tell you that life for me ain’t been no crystal stairs. It’s had rocks in it and boards torn up and places with no carpet on the floor, just bare. But all the time I been climbing on, reaching landings, turning corners, and sometimes going in the dark where there ain’t been no light. So I am telling you today: Don’t you turn back! Don’t you sit down on the steps 'cause you find it's kind of hard! Don’t you fall now! 'Cause I'm still going, honey. I’m still climbing. And life for me ain’t been no crystal stairs."

Thank you, Rosa! Thank you for not moving. And in so doing, moved all of us. Thank you!

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning African American actress Cicely Tyson speaking at the memorial for Rosa Parks. We turn now to Bruce Gordon, chair of — President of the NAACP. Rosa Parks was the secretary of the NAACP branch in Montgomery, Alabama. Bruce Gordon.

BRUCE GORDON:Who flew the plane was the first African-American chief pilot of a domestic airline in this country. You didn’t know that. And you didn’t know that the other two pilots in the cockpit were also African American. Probably didn’t know that either. Which gave them the right, as we left Montgomery yesterday, to circle the city and, as pilots do, to tip the air wings to waive goodbye for Rosa Parks to her hometown.

You see, in her passing, Rosa Parks lives. You also probably didn’t hear that the mayor of Montgomery yesterday stood up and had been guided by some to grant Rosa Parks a pardon for what she had done. No. Wait. Wait. And what that mayor did — because I believe that Rosa Parks, where she is touched him, she still has an impact today — and he said to the assembled crowd: "I am not here to grant Rosa Parks a pardon. I am here to ask that she pardon me and my city." That’s right. You understand? Rosa Parks lives. Her impact is still here.

AMY GOODMAN:Bruce Gordon, President of the NAACP speaking at Rosa Parks’s memorial.

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