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Preserving Rosa Parks' Detroit House, In Germany


Back in the U.S. now. You probably know the name of Rosa Parks. You probably know that her refusal to move to the colored section in the back of a city bus sparked the Montgomery bus boycotts, one of the pivotal moments in the American civil rights movement. But what you might not know is that shortly after she worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, she had to leave her home in Alabama to escape the constant threat of violence.

RHEA MCCAULEY: She did not want to leave the South. She left because she did not have a choice.

MARTIN: Rhea McCauley is one of Rosa Parks' 13 nieces and nephews. She also works with the Rosa Parks Foundation, teaching about her aunt's legacy. And part of that work has meant trying to preserve the house where Rosa Parks sought refuge when she arrived on South Deacon Street in Detroit in 1957.

MCCAULEY: The house was a two-story home, colonial. It was a frame house. That's just about it - three bedrooms, one bathroom.

MARTIN: Rosa Parks only lived there a few years until she could get her own place with her husband and her mother. Over the years, the house was sold and passed out of the family's possession. It was neglected and fell into disrepair. Rosa Parks died in 2005. Rhea McCauley purchased the house back from the city for $500, hoping to preserve it. At first, she tried to get it registered as an historical building. But that process proved difficult, so she decided to enlist the help of Berlin-based American artist Ryan Mendoza.

RYAN MENDOZA: And she asked me to help save this house, so that's what I helped her do.

MARTIN: Rhea McCauley said she decided the house would be best appreciated as an art exhibit in Berlin, Germany, which means the house was deconstructed piece by piece and shipped to Mendoza's art studio in Germany, where it currently awaits reconstruction.

MENDOZA: So what I want to do is rebuild this house in such a way that it can be taken apart and built again in a museum setting and then ultimately go back to the United States because it's not right for this house to be outside of the United States.

MARTIN: Rhea McCauley says, though, that one of the reasons she wanted to give the house to Mendoza is that she feels America doesn't deserve the house with ongoing tension between police and African-Americans that she sees as a threat to civil rights.

MCCAULEY: When America decides to stop murdering her citizens in cold blood, then maybe the house will come back.

MARTIN: Until then, the plan is for the house to be exhibited around Europe, where Rhea McCauley hopes it will keep Rosa Parks' memory alive and inspire new generations to follow her example. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.