Brown University has cancelled plans to exhibit the home in which civil rights pioneer and American icon Rosa Parks lived in Detroit after her iconic 1955 protest that sparked the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, the Providence school announced Wednesday.

“Out of respect for the memory of the civil rights icon, Brown will not display a Detroit house that is involved in a dispute among external parties,” the school said. The structure was going to be the focal point of programming and an exhibition about Parks and the legacies of the civil rights movement.

“Rosa Parks moved to Detroit in 1957,” the school explained in February. “She left Montgomery, Alabama, after receiving death threats and facing difficulty finding employment in the wake of her well-known act of protest in 1955, when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white patron. The house where she lived for a time in Detroit was owned by her brother and slated for demolition in recent years, until Rhea McCauley, Parks’ niece, bought it. McCauley was unable to find anyone willing to restore the property until she connected with [Berlin-based American artist Ryan] Mendoza, who raised the funds to transport it to his home in Berlin, rebuild it and display it.”


Full statement from Brown University and its Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice:

Brown University deeply regrets that it must cancel the display of the house that was to be a central focus for a planned exhibition dedicated to Civil Rights Movement pioneer and American icon Rosa Parks, which was scheduled to open in early April.

The University recently learned from the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development that the Detroit house that was to be the focal point of the programming and an exhibition celebrating Rosa Parks and civil rights is the source of a current dispute. Brown does not speak on behalf of the family of Rosa Parks, the institute or the artist who owns the house. It is out of deep respect for the legacy of Rosa Parks and what it represents for America that the University feels it cannot responsibly move forward with the exhibit of the house, previously set to open April 3.

Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ), which was organizing the three-month programming and exhibition associated with the house, will continue making preparations for a separate exhibition on the Civil Rights Movement and the African American political organizing tradition. This distinct exhibit was being planned to take place at the same time as the display of the house. The Civil Rights Movement exhibit will be hosted on Brown’s College Hill campus.

The cancelled exhibition that centered on displaying the Detroit house would have taken place in an exhibit space Brown was preparing at a renovated factory building that is the headquarters of the nonprofit arts organization WaterFire Providence. The house arrived in Providence at the end of February, and assembly had just begun. Artist Ryan Mendoza owns the Detroit home and had displayed it in Berlin before it journeyed to the U.S. in preparation for the Brown exhibition. Brown will immediately begin repackaging the house and arranging to ship it to its next destination, to be determined by Mr. Mendoza.

The separate CSSJ exhibition, titled “The Civil Rights Movement: Unfinished Business,” will advance many of the same goals of the exhibition previously planned for the display of the house — to have a conversation around critical issues of race in America, and to educate about the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Brown remains committed to its work convening difficult conversations on the legacy of slavery.

The CSSJ was established in 2012 as an outgrowth of Brown’s groundbreaking examination of its historic role in the global slave trade and assessment of what responsibilities it imposes on the University today. Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, the CSSJ supports scholarship on the legacy of slavery and sponsors public education programs that engage communities in learning about the black experience, as part of the American story.

Brown University is appreciative of the generous support offered by various foundations and sponsors for the formerly planned Rosa Parks exhibition. CSSJ also is appreciative of the outpouring of attention in Rhode Island, across the country and around the world to its efforts to celebrate Rosa Parks and her extensive work for racial and social justice.

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Categories: Art History