House where Rosa Parks sought refuge after fleeing the South to be offered at auction
DETROIT, Mich. — In 1957, two years after her famous refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, Rosa Parks fled to Detroit to escape death threats.
There she and her husband lived for some time in a modest clapboard house with her brother, her brother’s wife and their 13 children.
The house eventually fell into disrepair and was almost demolished. But after a long and unlikely journey — which included the house being dismantled, shipped to Germany and displayed as an art installation — it will be sold by a New York auction house next month.
“This (house) is unquestionably a historical place of significance,” said Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s auction house, which is handling the sale. “It’s certainly worth millions of dollars.”
From near-demolition to Berlin
Parks’ niece, Rhea McCauley, lived in the Detroit house. She remembers gathering around the table for dinner with her aunt (who she calls Auntie Rosa). Years later, she’d drive past its continuously deteriorating frame, and decided to save it.
McCauley paid $500 to take the house off the city’s demolition list. But it needed somewhere to go. Museums said no. Memorials said no. Organizations that had worked with Parks, who died in 2005, said no.
“There was nothing I could do to protect the property. I talked to neighbors. I asked for help. You could use the word ‘beg’,” McCauley told CNN last year.
Then came a breakthrough: Someone put McCauley in touch with Ryan Mendoza, an American artist living in Berlin. Mendoza grew up in Pennsylvania and saw the opportunity to preserve a piece of American history while reconstructing an abandoned home similar to the one from his childhood.
“All of my work deals with things and people who have been forgotten on some level,” he told CNN last year.
So McCauley donated the house to Mendoza, who dismantled it, shipped it to Berlin and reassembled it, where it became an attraction.
Back to America, and the auction block
The house was supposed to appear at Brown University earlier this year as part of a civil rights exhibit, but the school changed its mind amid some debate over whether Parks had actually lived there.
“Brown will not display a Detroit house that is involved in a dispute among external parties,” it said in a statement.
The house is currently in Providence, Rhode Island, ready to be shipped in pieces to its next destination.
Mendoza agreed to allow Guernsey’s to oversee the sale of the house because of the auction house’s previous history. The auction house handled the sale of Parks’ personal archives after her death. They were bought for $4.5 million by Howard Buffett, youngest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who donated them to the Library of Congress.
“He (Mendoza) has taken meticulous care of this house,” said Ettinger, Guernsey’s president.
The house will be sold with about 700 other items dedicated to African-American history and culture, including the manuscript to Alex Haley’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and the Jackson 5’s first recording contract.
Mendoza said he will give 50% of the proceeds from the sale to the Rosa Parks Family Foundation.