PLEASE NOTE: The images for this lot include shots of the house in construction, partially constructed, or, in the case of the first image, as it did when still inhabited. The house, once fully assembled, will look as seen in images 2, 3, 4 and 5.
On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a defining moment in the Civil Rights movement. Two years later, she fled the South, driven away by death threats and unemployment. She headed to Detroit, to be with her brother and his family. "Auntie Rosa came [to Detroit] homeless, no money. Nobody wanted Auntie Rosa. People weren't running around trying to hire my aunt," says Rhea McCauley, Rosa Parks' niece. In Detroit Mrs. Parks found refuge in this home, which belonged to her brother Sylvester McCauley and his family. In this house on South Deacon Street, Mrs. Parks was safe from the threat of the South, but still very much affected by racism in what she called "the Northern promised land that wasn't."
Mrs. Parks lived in this house with 17 other family members. She, her brother, her sister-in-law, and their 13 children shared three bedrooms and one bathroom. At the same time, Mrs. Parks was struggling to create a new life for herself in the city where she would eventually spend the rest of her life fighting for causes she held dear. During her time living in this home, Rosa Parks would often pitch in in whatever ways she could - help her family with the cooking, for instance, making blueberry cobbler and baked chicken, doing what she could to assist the family in any way.
Despite Mrs. Parks' renown, and her tireless work on behalf of various causes, her life in Detroit was never easy. In particular, the years between her arrival in the city in 1957 and her eventual steady employment with Congressman John Conyers in 1965 were marked by destitution. She spent the days riding the bus, searching throughout the city for work, and for a long time, returning with nothing. Sometimes she was "gone from sunup to sundown," niece Rhea McCauley recalls. Mrs. Parks would work in the basement of the house tailoring clothes, just to make some small amount of money. These were times of poverty for her. The worn facade of the house can almost be seen as a metaphor for the hardships that Mrs. Parks experienced. Her time here was born of difficulties, and of suffering. This house is a reminder that Mrs. Parks' legacy does not begin and end with one day in 1955, but that her work, and what she had to endure for her advocacy of equality and of civil rights, continued throughout the rest of her life.
Detroit, when Mrs. Parks arrived at the end of the 1950s, was still an effectively segregated city. The 'great black migration' had resulted in a large African American population, but housing, schools, and other services for blacks were substandard. According to an interview, Mrs. Parks didn't feel a great deal of difference between the North and the South. In fact, she says, "housing segregation is just as bad, and it seems more noticeable in the larger cities." Of course, she would know first-hand the difficulties that faced African Americans trying to find housing in a crowded city.
This house is inextricably a part of the story of Mrs. Parks' migration north - an experience shared by many African-Americans. As Yonette Joseph writes in The New York Times, the house is "a portal to another time." A time when 6 million African Americans were in the process of moving from the South, escaping persecution and racism. For Mrs. Parks, migration provided freedom from the threats of the South, but also meant the difficulties that come with completely uprooting one's life. And, after her move, Mrs. Parks was exposed to the racism that still existed and had to be faced, even in the North. "It sort of asks us to see (Parks) outside of the South, it asks us to see northern segregation and northern inequality," says Jeanne Theoharis, author of "The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks" and professor at Brooklyn College. Despite Detroit's attempts to be racially progressive, Mrs. Parks saw that there was still much work to be done.
Despite her lack of money and of a place she could really call her own, Mrs. Parks continued to be active in various movements on a national level. She traveled to join the Selma to Montgomery Marches - nonviolent marches in support of equal voting rights - as well as to assist the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which was an effort created by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to register black voters. She made these journeys despite her relative poverty. It was during this time, as well, that Mrs. Parks met Malcolm X, a personal hero of hers.
Mrs. Parks eventually became a secretary in Congressman John Conyer's offices in 1965, a position she would hold until 1988. Mrs. Parks was in fact instrumental in Conyer's success in the primaries. She managed to convince Martin Luther King Jr., who was circumspect about endorsing local political candidates, to give Conyers his support, a momentous aid in his victory. Mrs. Parks continued to participate in rallies, protests, and on behalf of noble causes for her entire life. For instance, in the 1970s Mrs. Parks fought for freedom for political prisoners, most notably Joann Little and Gary Tyler, who had been unfairly sentenced due to race. More generally, she did work involving welfare, fighting against police harassment and brutality, and advocating for equal, open housing for the races. "Rosa Parks was an activist and an advocate for racial justice and social equality long before she refused to get up from the seat and long after," says Anthony Bogues, professor of humanities and critical theory and Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University "The entire arc of her life is around questions of racial justice and equality in the U.S."
In the larger scheme, the eventual abandonment and decay and disrepair the house fell into - like so many other homes in stricken Detroit - speaks to the housing crisis in Detroit. It is ironic that one of Rosa Parks' missions while living in Detroit was to provide housing for African-Americans, ensuring they had a place to stay, something that this house provided her when she arrived in the North. In fact, Rosa Parks never owned a home during her decades of living in Detroit. Though its population is predominantly African-American, Mrs. Parks was not alone in her inability to become a homeowner in the city. African Americans in Detroit, and in cities across the country, are still living with and affected by that legacy today.
Detroit has ranked among the 10 most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States since the mid-20th century. By the early 1960s, urban renewal and highway construction destroyed 10,000 structures in Detroit, displacing over 40,000 people, 70% of whom were African-American. More recently, the housing crisis, foreclosures and demolition have swept the city, leaving more abandoned buildings and vacant lots. As it is described on the RISD website, "the small house where Parks took shelter in the late 1950s with her brother, his wife and their 13 children is one of thousands that were slated for demolition in Detroit's inner city. Its story reflects not only on the fate of the activist and her family well over half a century ago but on the plight of African-Americans across the country who continue to be denied access to "the American dream" of home ownership."
"This humble structure has an amazing story to tell - about Rosa Parks and her family, about the Civil Rights Movement, about African Americans' flight from the South to the Industrial North and the decline of Detroit. "Adolf Loos once said that architecture's most noble task is to remind us to commemorate - and he was thinking of tombs and monuments. Instead, this simple working class house, ruinous as it is, is just as powerful an invitation to remember, to read closely, to explore its context and to understand the web of stories that intersect there." - Dietrich Neumann, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University.
In 2016, Ms. McCauley met the artist Ryan Mendoza. Mendoza was in Detroit at the time working on a project that explored the idea of home, and also explored the American subprime mortgage crisis. Mrs. Parks' niece had managed to buy the house back in 2014, but had no way of protecting it from demolition, as it was falling into serious disrepair. When the two met to see the house, "the floors were dipping and the house moved ever so slightly with the wind. The back wall was patched together with the doors of the house itself." It was clear that if something was not done soon, the house would be lost forever.
Mr. Mendoza, through selling his own work, managed to raise the necessary amount needed to save the house. The structure was dismantled, which at first raised concerns and suspicion in the neighborhood. But it soon became a community project. Realizing the importance of saving the home, the neighbors pitched in. Describing a video taken of the dismantling, CNN reporter Atika Shubert writes that the neighbors "sing spontaneously to the camera and recite poetry. To watch the video is to witness a eulogy from a community trying to save a forgotten piece of American historyâ€¦" The house was transported from Detroit to Berlin, an amazing journey that was wholeheartedly supported by citizens of both cities.
The house was dismantled and shipped over to Europe in pieces. Once it reached Berlin, it was carefully and painstakingly reassembled by Mr. Mendoza - much of it by hand. A labor of love for the artist, this historic building was worth the intense labor put in, as long as it could remain intact, wherever it was in the world. Previous to coming to America, the Rosa Parks family home was on display in the neighborhood of Wedding, Berlin, to great acclaim. Despite the house's distinctly American history, Germans were thrilled to have Mrs. Parks' home in their country, and school trips, tours, and events were structured around the house. The German Vice Chancellor visited, as did various accomplished and famous individuals from around the world.
Following its time in Berlin, the house then travelled back to America, where it was displayed in Providence at the WaterFire Arts Center from May 3rd to June 3rd, 2018, as "The Rosa Parks House Project." WaterFire is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to projects that revitalize the city and encourage community involvement. And Mrs. Parks' home was certainly an attraction. Many people came, from around the world, to view it where it was beautifully installed in an old salt factory in Providence.
During the time of its installation, the Rosa Parks home was the subject of a symposium run by the Rhode Island School of Design entitled Everybody's House: a symposium on art preservation, and memory (May 2018). "From the viewpoint of art and design, the story of the house and its history since leaving Detroit is a demonstration of the new reach of preservation and the power of creative adaptive reuse," says RISD Interior Architecture Department Head Liliane Wong. "[It] raises important questions about what we as a people value and how much we are willing to put at stake to preserve those values." This house has been the subject of three full-length articles in the New York Times, as well as of extensive coverage from the BBC, CNN, NBC, AFP, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, and many, many more.
Included in this lot is a 12-page instructional book on how to assemble the house. Created by a group of architects, this book very clearly delineates the steps needed to erect the house. The house also comes complete with all walls and the entire roof, along with the original doors indicating where the rooms were, steps leading to a second floor, the original parquet floor, and the chimney.
Famed singer Patti LaBelle is in discussion to film the music video for her song "Dear Rosa," using this house, directed by Charles Randolph Wright. This house was also the subject of an award-winning documentary entitled "The White House" (2017). The house is also in talks to be the subject of a documentary created by A&E. In our current day and age, when issues of race and identity are at the forefront of the news, this house is a reminder of the legacy of racism, but also of a lifetime-long legacy of fighting for equality. With continual proof that systematic racism is still ingrained within the fabric of American culture, this house, and its journey to find a final home, should serve as something to be celebrated and to learn from. As Mrs. Parks herself said, "Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome."
FOB Upstate New York.