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Bill Clinton: Rosa Parks “Made Us See and Agree that Everyone Should Be Free”

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Former President Bill Clinton was one of the first speakers at the funeral of Rosa Parks Wednesday in Detroit. Clinton said, “Let us never forget that in that simple act and a lifetime of grace and dignity, she showed us every single day what it means to be free. She made us see and agree that everyone should be free. God Bless you Rosa Parks.” [includes rush transcript]

  • Bill Clinton, speaking Nov. 2nd, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan.

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

AMY GOODMAN: President Bill Clinton was the first speaker of the day. This is an excerpt of what he had to say.

BILL CLINTON: Rosa Parks ignited the most significant social movement in modern American history. To finish the work that spawned the Civil War and redeemed the promise of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. For 50 more years, she moved beyond the bus, continuing her work on that promise. It was my honor to present her with a Presidential Medal of Freedom and to join the leaders of Congress in presenting her with a Congressional Gold Medal. I remember well when she sat with Hillary in the box of the First Family at the State of the Union address in 1999 and how the entire Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, rose as one to recognize that she had made us all better people and a better country.

When I first met Rosa Parks, I was reminded of what Abraham Lincoln said when he was introduced to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He said, “So this is the little lady who started the great war.” This time, Rosa’s war was fought by Martin Luther King’s rules — civil disobedience, peaceful resistance — but a war, nonetheless, for one America in which the law of the land means the same thing for everybody.

Rosa Parks, as we saw again today, was small in stature with delicate features. But the passing years did nothing to dim the light that danced in her eyes, the kindness and strength you saw in her smile or the dignity of her voice. To the end, she radiated that kind of grace and serenity that God specially gives to those who stand in the line of fire for freedom and touch even the hardest hearts.

I remember as if it were yesterday that fateful day 50 years ago. I was a nine-year-old Southern white boy who rode a segregated bus every single day of my life. I sat in the front. Black folk sat in the back. When Rosa showed us that black folks didn’t have to sit in the back anymore, two of my friends and I who strongly approved of what she had done decided we didn’t have to sit in the front anymore. It was just a tiny gesture by three ordinary kids, but that tiny gesture was repeated over and over again, millions and millions of times in the hearts and minds of children, their parents, their grandparents, their great grandparents, proving that she did help to set us all free.

That great civil rights song that Nina Simone did so well: “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, I wish I could break all the chains holding me, I wish I could fly like a bird in the sky.” The end says, “I wish that you knew how it feels to be me. Then you’d see and agree that everyone should be free.” Now that our friend, Rosa Parks, has gone on to her just reward, now that she has gone home and left us behind, let us never forget that in that simple act and a lifetime of grace and dignity, she showed us every single day what it means to be free. She made us see and agree that everyone should be free. God bless you, Rosa. God bless you.

AMY GOODMAN: Former president, Bill Clinton, at the funeral of Rosa Parks.

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