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Remembrances Fill Hearts at Parks’ Capitol Memorial

The late Rosa Parks drew tens of thousands of mourners to the Capitol Rotunda on Sunday and Monday, many eager to share the impact Parks had on their lives.

“Everybody has a story,” said the Rev. Gerald Hesson of Radnor Township, Pa. “Rosa Parks was someone who did something about our frustration.”

Hesson told a story about discrimination by his local barber in the 1960s. [IMGCAP(1)]

One day, after waiting a while with his sons at Joe’s Barber Shop in upstate New York, Hesson noticed that other customers were being served around his family. He confronted Joe about this, and the barber responded that he only served customers by appointment.

So Hesson and his sons had their hair cut by the town’s other barber, who told them that Joe took walk-in appointments all the time. Hesson returned to the first barbershop and said, “Joe, I want an appointment.” Then he sued him for discrimination.

The reverend’s wife, Colleen Hesson, remembered picketing drug store soda fountains in Fredericksburg, Va., shortly after the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott Parks spurred with her refusal to give up her seat. Hesson accompanied a school friend and her fair-skinned mother to a sit-in, and the waitress didn’t realize the woman was black until her darker daughter asked to share her drink. “I felt sort of sorry for that waitress,” Hesson laughed.

Carolyn Johnson, of Silver Spring, Md., said she was paying her respects for the opportunities Parks won for Johnson and her children. When a few visitors began to sing “We Shall Overcome” softly, Johnson shook her head. “I’m so sick of that song,” she said, explaining that blacks had not overcome, and that Hurricane Katrina showed there was still a segment of society that has always been left behind.

— Jean Chemnick