Rosa Parks' former home kidnapped/saved (SLGuardian)
October 3, 2016 12:36 PM   Subscribe

The Detroit home of civil rights activist Rosa Parks has been dismantled and moved across the Atlantic by a Berlin-based artist after it faced demolition in its original location.

The facade of the two-storey building, home to Parks in the 1950s and 60s, was shipped from the US to Germany last month, after having been donated by one of her relatives to Ryan Mendoza, an American artist based in the German capital.

Members of Parks’ family had in past years repeatedly failed to raise funds for the building’s preservation.
posted by Too-Ticky (13 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I could've sworn we discussed this artists' other Detroit house-themed project, but I couldn't find it in search.
posted by cell divide at 12:59 PM on October 3, 2016

I really believe in preserving her memory and giving it the respect due, but is it important that her house be preserved? Did anything important happen there, or was it just where she lived?

I'd say there's much more of a case to be made for preservation of the bus she famously protested on.
posted by explosion at 1:47 PM on October 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

It's not like we are overwhelmed with excessive memorials of notable black Americans.
posted by praemunire at 1:54 PM on October 3, 2016 [24 favorites]

The Rosa Parks bus is in The Henry Ford Museum just south of downtown Detroit. With all due respect to its history, my main thought when visiting it was a feeling of time travel: it was just like the buses I rode on as a kid.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:59 PM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's not like we are overwhelmed with excessive memorials of notable black Americans.

There's a reason why we have an architectural vernacular for artifacts built expressly to honor individuals for their role in historical event. And there's a reason the vernacular does not include putting their former homes in amber.
posted by ocschwar at 3:52 PM on October 3, 2016

You may note a lot of those historic homes are only historic in the sense that they are old.

I live 2 blocks from one of them, and nobody who lived in that house made himself notable enough for a Wikipedia entry.

Rosa Parks, in particular, is notable for what she did in a public space, with the intent and effect of changing what we do in public, hundreds of miles away from her actual home. She merits statues, plaques, to say nothing of prominent mention in school history books. Her actual home? Have you ever wondered if Rosa Parks heated her home with wood or oil? Me neither.
posted by ocschwar at 4:51 PM on October 3, 2016

It's an interesting thing to discuss, but for me seeing the home of someone from history is interesting. It places them in a time and place, it makes you realize that greatness is something people mostly create themselves; the homes can be humdrum as an artifact on its own, but still fascinating to see as a preservation of someone's personal history.
posted by cell divide at 5:37 PM on October 3, 2016

Certain former President's homes, including those who owned slaves, are preserved as historic sites in the US. I don't see the harm in the preservation of the house of a historic figure who didn't own slaves.
posted by dazed_one at 6:46 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

She merits statues, plaques, to say nothing of prominent mention in school history books. Her actual home?

She needs to be honored, just not in this particular way people happen to be actually doing it, huh?
posted by praemunire at 7:27 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

She needs to be honored, just not in this particular way people happen to be actually doing it, huh?

If some people put the money together to ship her house to Germany, that's fine by me.

IF they hadn't, and people in Detroit couldn't save her house from the decay that's continuing to afflict the whole city, I would find no reason to criticize them for it. They have to have their priorities.

And if someone wants to build a conventional piece of honorary architecture (read: statue), in say, Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, or somewhere closer to my backyard, I'll chip in.
posted by ocschwar at 7:56 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wonder what the people at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL have to say about this. It's a shame they (apparently) weren't consulted.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:28 AM on October 4, 2016

I have no reason to assume they weren't consulted.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:38 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would need to know a whole lot more about the surrounding context before I render a judgment in any direction. Preservation is a complex business, and it's true that there is no particular reason why memorializing people through their houses - a sort of domestic fetish activity that began with Mt. Vernon and peaked around 1920 - should be the appropriate vocabulary for our era, though there have been some great more recent efforts that are very meaningful. So there are arguments on both sides of preserving someone's house. But some of the facts that are interesting include:
Parks moved into the modest three-bedroom house on South Deacon Street in Detroit’s south-west after fleeing Alabama because of the death threats she continued to receive after the end of the boycott. She remained in the city until her death in 2009. Though relatives say she considered her new home a refuge, she remained vocal in her criticism of the city’s housing segregation practices and participated in the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom.
The home as place of refuge from threats and platform for ongoing protest about housing in Detroit does argue for more relevance to this site than just "a place she happened to live."

Also, it was Parks' niece who approached the artist - he didn't steal it out from under anyone or pick it up at a bargain sale. There could have been other avenues to preservation but perhaps not one anyone had the patience or time for, and none were guaranteed, either.

Finally, I just visited Detroit, and one challenge for any historic house is simply the vastness of the city and how ill served it is by public transport. The location of the Parks house is 15 minutes by car on a superhighway - much longer on city streets, a discouraging walk, and nowhere near the central business district that most tourists would visit as part of a business or recreational trip. I don't know the area around the former house much at all, but I do know it was outside the general zone of Detroit attractions that tourists can get to with relative ease. I was musing on the impact of this sort of geographical determinism for a museum's success when I visited the Motown Museum. I used a city bus to get there, but it took over an hour. It was a long way from downtown, in a mostly residential neighborhood, but a neighborhood that also has a hospital and a university and was once its own mini-urban center, so there are other reasons for people to go there and other amenities nearby. Even so, a lot of people came as part of big bus tours of Motown history, not just to visit just that site as I did. Also, a large number of people are highly motivated to go to the Motown Museum - it is a fun, mostly happy, nostalgic story that relates to a lot of people's lives in a personal way because they grew up with this music and it is associated with pleasant memories. It has just enough going for it that it can do well even in an outlying-ish neighborhood, but it does face some challenges being out of the CBD. It can be tough to set up a museum in isolated places where there is no tourism infrastructure to support it. Only really devoted pilgrims will undertake the trouble to get there, and you usually can't make an annual budget based on really devoted pilgrims.

So this is a pretty inventive move and has the possibility to actually be a lot more visible and generative as an art project in Europe than really, preserving the house as a traditional museum in Detroit might have.
posted by Miko at 8:51 PM on October 5, 2016

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