Brown University Abruptly Cancels Plan to Display Rosa Parks' Detroit Home

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted in 1956 (Wikimedia Commons)

Brown University in Providence, R.I., on Thursday abruptly pulled the plug on plans to display the reconstructed Detroit home where civil rights icon Rosa Parks once lived in the 1950s.

The Rosa Parks home being reconstructed at Brown University.

The house was already being reconstructed at Brown, and was to officially go on display in early April as a reminder of Parks' legacy and the civil rights movement. 

The Associated Press reports: 

Brown cited an unspecified dispute involving the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which Parks co-founded but which has feuded with relatives in the past. Brown spokesman Brian Clark said in an email that the university "took steps quickly upon learning recently about the dispute."

"Brown is not a party in the dispute and therefore we are not in a position to speak about the nature of the dispute," when asked for more details. "Also, we know that individuals involved in the dispute intended to object strongly if the exhibit proceeded. It is out of our respect for the legacy of Rosa Parks that Brown is stepping aside."

The institute did not return a call to AP for comment.

The lawyer for the institute, Steven Cohen, cast doubt on the connection to Parks in comments he made to The Brown Daily Herald student newspaper last month, AP reported.

"The truth is, she didn't stay there," he told the newspaper. "It's a house which Rosa Parks' brother and his family used to live in. It's no more Rosa Parks' house than it is my house."

Ryan Mendoza, an American artist residing in Berlin, deconstructed the three-bedroom home at 2672 S. Deacon St. in southwest Detroit in 2016 and shipped it to Berlin where it was put back together and put on display on his property in the Wedding District of the city.

Ryan Mendoza (Deadline Detroit photo)

But all along, he wanted to return it to the U.S. where he felt it belonged. Last year, a member of the Nash Family Foundation, based in Manitowoc, Wis., formally agreed to give $45,000 for its passage back to America, the New York Times reported.

Then Brown University agreed to put it on display. Mendoza has been in Rhode Island since the end of February, helping to put it together.

Mendoza, who is upset about the cancelation, told Deadline Detroit Thursday night that there's plenty of documented evidence, including from relatives and a neighbor, that Parks lived in her brother's house for a couple years. 

He said he suspects the cancellation may have something to do with his column published in Deadline Detroit on Thursday, which talked about the home and the irony that Brown University was named after a family that was involved in the slave trade. He had suggested in the column that maybe the university be renamed Rosa Parks University.

He also said the institute doesn't want to associate Rosa Parks with a run down home.

"They want to white wash her history," he said.

He said he's been in Rhode Island with his wife and child, and feels like " we're in a boat in the middle of the sea without an oar."

He said he has options to display it elsewhere. 

Rhea McCauley, Rosa Park's niece and president of the Rosa Parks Family Foundation, was only a few years old in the 1950s, living in the Deacon Street home with 12 other siblings and her parents, when aunt Rosa Parks, her husband Raymond Parks and Rosa's mother, Leona, moved from Alabama into the house.

It was 1957 and they stayed there for about two years before getting their own home, McCauley told Deadline Detroit in an interview in 2016. 

The vacant, run-down house eventually landed on the city's demolition list. McCauley paid $500 of her own money to the Detroit Land Bank Authority to take it off the list. She then tried to find an organization to preserve it.

She says she went to such organizations as the NAACP and Motor City Blight Busters, but had no luck. That's when she turned to Mendoza, who took up the cause.

McCauley told AP that the decision is a missed opportunity and said the university had not consulted with the family.

"They made this decision on their own," she said.

Parks died in Detroit of natural causes at age 92 on Oct. 24, 2005.


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