Rosa Parks To Lie in Honor at Capitol

Front page in the Washington Post.

The nation’s capital began preparations yesterday for a historic weekend, when civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks will become one of only 30 Americans ever honored with the pomp and ritual of a Capitol Rotunda viewing.
The woman who quietly refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., a half-century ago will be the first woman and the second African American to lie in state at the same exalted place as presidents and war heroes.

The reality is that she was a hero (of a non-armed conflict war). It does not matter if her civil disobedience on that bus was staged (or not); what matters is that her actions sparked the efforts that resulted in the civil rights legislation that followed. “Times were different then.”

Many expect the vigil to draw crowds of people who remember Parks as a role model and an icon of the civil rights movements.
“I can’t imagine a higher honor than this,” said Richard Baker, chief Senate historian, who has studied and documented events beneath the great dome for three decades.
Parks transcended the partisanship that has deadlocked Congress on other issues. Within days of her death, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who employed Parks for 20 years in his Detroit office, had moved the resolution through both houses of Congress, with support from both sides of the aisle.
Baker said of Parks: “It’s been a long road from that bus seat to the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. This is a great memorial to the courage of one person.”

Indeed it has been a long journey, one with many potholes and detours, and one that is not over. But it is one that had to be taken, and the significance of Rosa Parks is that her actions were the catalyst for what followed.

In the past, the nation has come to the Capitol to pay tribute to presidents, senators, generals and unknown soldiers. This is the first time a private citizen renowned for social activism and the first time a woman will be the focus of the ritual.

The previous African American to lie in state was in 1998, one of the slain Capitol Hill Police Officers. But Rosa Parks is breaking another barrier as the first woman singled out for this honor. It is a mark of how much has changed that this event is occurring, as it would have been unthinkable when she made her courageous act, becoming the symbol of all that followed. It is too easy today to make assumptions about the conditions then, or to attempt to forward the past conditions to today; it goes both ways. Things aren’t perfect, and they never can be (depends too much on who is defining “perfect”), but reality is that race issues today are a totally different topic than in the 1950s.

On a more mundane note

Officials will not allow photography in the Rotunda; they have not yet decided whether to ban cameras. Prohibited items can be checked at the entrance and reclaimed after the viewing…

OK, will they take cell phones too (with possible cameras)? It sounds like this plan is dated (not 1950s, only 3-5 years).


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Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.