Famous Eulogies: Oprah Winfrey on Rosa Parks

Some eulogies provide a profoundly meaningful, lasting tribute to the deceased

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Rosa Parks seated toward the front of the bus, Montgomery, Alabama, January 1, 1956. Photo © Underwood Archives/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Ideally, a well-crafted and -delivered eulogy illuminates and elucidates special qualities about the deceased that enhance the existing emotional and spiritual connections between the person who died and the living, thereby focusing and increasing a listener's appreciation of the life lost. In some cases, the eulogy itself proves a memorable and meaningful embodiment of both the unique nature of the departed and the depth of feeling that endures in the hearts and minds of those who remain.

This article presents the text of just such an enduring remembrance speech: the eulogy by Oprah Winfrey of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks during the latter's funeral on October 31, 2005, at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.

On December 1, 1955, Parks boarded a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama, after she finished working. During the trip home, the bus steadily filled with white passengers until several of them had to stand in the aisle because no seats were open in the whites-only section (the front half) of the bus. Noticing this, the bus driver stopped and moved the sign dividing the two sections back one row of seats, requiring four black passengers -- including Parks -- to give up their seats. Parks refused, saying, "I don't think I should have to stand up."

Arrested and found guilty of violating the city's municipal code four days later, her case triggered a legal challenge to racial segregation on public transportation that ultimately resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court upholding lower-court decisions that such laws were unconstitutional.

The Eulogy of Rosa Parks by Oprah Winfrey
October 31, 2005
Reverend Braxton, family, friends, admirers and this amazing choir. 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 a 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.

Related Articles of Interest:
VIDEO: Oprah Winfrey Eulogizes Rosa Parks
5 Tips for Writing a Successful Eulogy
How To Write a Eulogy or Remembrance Speech

Sources:
"Rosa Parks Biography." www.biography.com. Retrieved March 8, 2015. http://www.biography.com/people/rosa-parks-9433715

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