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More Than 30,000 Pay Respects to US Civil Rights Icon Rosa Parks

Tens of thousands of people have paid tribute to Rosa Parks, whose defiance of discriminatory laws in the southern United States 50 years ago paved the way for the end of racial segregation. Mrs. Parks, who died at age 92, was given a send off from the U.S. Capitol where she lay in honor as thousands filed past her casket, and later African-American leaders paid tribute to her as a major figure in the fight for equality.

With a choir singing a spiritual hymn on the steps of the Capitol, an honor guard slowly carried the casket bearing Rosa Parks body to a waiting hearse.

There could not have been a more significant demonstration of her importance in U.S. history, and to Americans of every color, than the tribute given her by Congress.

She was the first woman to lie in repose in the ornate rotunda under the dome of the U.S. Capitol, joining former presidents and military heroes and others given the honor dating back to 1852.

The last such use of the Capitol rotunda was for former President Ronald Reagan in 2004.

Mrs. Parks was only the second African-American given the honor - after Jacob Joseph Chestnut, one of two U.S. Capitol police officers killed in the line of duty in 1998.

Thousands of Americans of all races stood in line to pay a final tribute. Those paying respects included African-American community and civil-rights leaders, members of Congress, and other dignitaries.

President Bush and his wife Laura were among them on Sunday, laying a wreath, as the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Rear Admiral Barry Black, read a eulogy.

ADMIRAL BLACK: "We are grateful that by sitting down, this mother of the modern civil rights movement enabled millions to stand up in a better world."

In 1955, Mrs. Parks, then a 42-year-old seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man as required by the law then.

That small act of defiance sparked a 381-day bus boycott by African Americans, led by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., an event that helped set off the civil-rights movement in the United States.

In November, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled segregation on transportation unconstitutional, setting the stage for other significant steps forward in the civil-rights movement.

At a memorial service at a church in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Parks was described as one of the most important figures in the struggle of African-Americans for equality and justice in America.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY: "The light that shown in the Capitol last night, cast its beams all across this country and all across the world. The tears of the Parks family, were the tears of a nation that will remain eternally in the debt to this great woman who became a profile in courage for our time and all time."

OPRAH WINFREY: "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."

Johnnie Carr was a childhood friend of Rosa Parks.

CARR: "We are celebrating the home going of a character, a true trooper, a true servant, a person who has given much to make this whole world a better place for all of us to live."

In honoring Rosa Parks, Congress, which awarded her a Congressional Gold Medal in 2000, said she was being recognized for her historic contributions as a great American.

President Bush ordered flags across the United States to be flown at half-staff in her honor.

In the procession taking Mrs. Parks to a memorial service Monday in a Washington, DC church, was an old white bus from Montgomery, Alabama, the vehicle on which she refused to give up her seat in 1955.

Rosa Parks will be buried Wednesday in Detroit, Michigan.