Rosa Parks‘ might be known for taking an epic stand against segregation, refusing to give up her seat to a white man in December of 1955. However, her story does not end there. After this epic moment in Civil Rights History, she lost her job as a seamstress after financial sanctions were imposed against civil rights activists. Her husband quit working after he was barred from mentioning his wife or her efforts for civil rights.
Rosa, like many Blacks in the South went North for better opportunities and safety. She moved to Detroit, joining her brother and living in his modest, two story home. Rosa Parks’ niece, Rhea McCauley, bought back the family house for $500; however, had trouble finding anyone to help her save it from demolition. She met fine arts painter, Ryan Mendoza, who agreed to help. By selling some of his paintings, he made over $100K and went to Detroit to excavate the house. He shipped the wooden exterior to Berlin, spending the Winter rebuilding it in his garden. “It was an act of love,” he recalled to the New York Times, discussing how he rebuilt the home, mostly alone, by hand.
Surprised that the home is in Berlin vs a historical landmark in the United States? Daniel Geary, an American history professor at Trinity College Dublin, echoes similar thoughts, “In general, in the U.S., with public heroes, there is an attempt to perserve anywhere they lived.” To Daniel, he believes that the neglect of this house is also an illustration of America’s resolve to not deal with it’s racist past. He continues,
“People like to remember Rosa Parks for one moment, when she wouldn’t stand up on a bus,” he said. “They don’t really want to grapple with the rest of her life. The death threats, the fact that she had to leave Alabama and go to Detroit. It’s a more complicated story with a less happy ending. She suffered for her decision.”
The house is located in the Ryan Mendoza’s garden, where guests can give singing or spoken tributes to Rosa Parks. Despite the open hours, about 50 people ring the bell each day to visit the home and if the couple is home, they tend to let guests in. The house is partially visible from the street some people can look, even if they are not home. Nevertheless, visitors are not allowed inside the home, not only for insurance purposes, but also for a sign of respect. “This house was abandoned, people came inside. I want it to have it’s dignity.”
Rhea is happy the house is in Germany, “I was amazed to find more knowledge of Auntie Rosa’s legacy there than here,” she said.
What a shame that America did not respect or realize the value of Rosa Parks’ home.