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Civil Rights Leader's Home May Be Returned to US

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Rosa Parks became famous in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama.

She was important in the movement for civil rights in the American South during the 1950s and 60s.

At the time, blacks in the South were forced to sit in the back of public buses and to give up their seats to white people.

Parks moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1957 to escape death threats. She continued living in Detroit until her death in 2005, at age 92.

But the house in Detroit where Parks lived for many years was abandoned and scheduled to be torn down. Her niece, Rhea McCauley, bought it for $500 to stop it from being destroyed. She then gave it to American artist, Ryan Mendoza.

Mendoza and others took it apart and then sent it across the Atlantic Ocean to the German capital of Berlin. There, he led efforts to rebuild the house.

It now is behind his own house in Berlin. It gets daily visitors, although it is difficult to find, Mendoza said.

Artist wants to return Park’s home to U.S.

But less than a year after the house was rebuilt in Berlin, Mendoza decided it should be returned to the United States.

He made the decision after deadly violence took place at a recent white nationalist event in Charlottesville, Virginia. That incident increased calls for removing statues of Confederate leaders from the Civil War in the U.S.

Mendoza said there are not enough civil rights monuments “to balance things out” with the Confederate statues.

FILE - Rosa Parks visits an exhibit illustrating her bus ride of December, 1955 at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, July 15, 1995.
FILE - Rosa Parks visits an exhibit illustrating her bus ride of December, 1955 at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, July 15, 1995.

He said the Rosa Parks house belongs back in America.

“Imagine if the house were on a public setting in a prominent city in the U.S.,” Mendoza said. “That’s an education tool that shouldn’t be denied the American people. They have to know their past.”

Peter Hammer is a law professor and director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University in Detroit. He believes the house would be welcomed back in Detroit.

“My sense is that the Germans have adequately shamed us for not protecting our own history,” Hammer told VOA.

He noted that Detroit has failed to protect historical homes in the past. Such houses include the former home of Ralph Bunche, the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

He received the award in 1950 for helping negotiate peace between Israelis and Arabs that led to the creation of the country of Israel in 1948. Bunche’s home in Detroit became a parking lot.

Detroit’s failure to protect history also is shown by the loss of the Rosa Parks house, Hammer said.

He said that Parks was an important civil rights activist “long before' she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama.

In Detroit, Hammer said Parks served as a mentor to people fighting for equal rights. A mentor is someone who gives help and advice to people who are less experienced.

I’m Bruce Alpert.

The Associated Press reported on this story. Bruce Alpert adapted the story and did additional reporting for VOA Learning English. The editor was Mario Ritter.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on our Facebook Page. Is there someone near where you live who you think should be remembered with a special exhibit or by preserving his or her home?

Words in This Story

abandon - v. left without people living there

schedule - v. a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done

monument - n. a building or statue that honors a person or event

prominent - adj. put in a place that is important and where it will receive attention

adequately - adv. enough to meet some need

shamed - v. to cause someone to feel embarrassed or ashamed

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