The Detroit home of civil rights icon Rosa Parks has been painstakingly rebuilt here by American artist Ryan Mendoza outside his studio in the Wedding district of the German capital.
The unlikely location is the result of the financial crisis of 2008 and Detroit’s dramatic decline. Like thousands of houses in Detroit, Parks’ home was abandoned after the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit. Authorities planned to demolish it in an effort to clean up the city.
To stop the demolition, Parks’ niece Rhea McCauley bought the house from the city for $500 and donated it to Mendoza, who already had moved a Detroit house to Europe as part of an art project.
When Mendoza said he wanted to bring Parks’ house to his studio in Berlin, McCauley agreed.
“It is something that is precious,” she told The Associated Press while visiting the wooden two-story house in Berlin this week for the first time. “And it is priceless. And yet it is being mistreated. That’s what I saw. And that’s how it felt. And so when I met Ryan and he said, ‘Let’s bring it to Berlin and restore it,’ I said yes.”
In the summer of 2016, Mendoza and volunteers took the house apart, put it into containers and shipped it to Germany.
Mendoza has spent six months rebuilding it.
[pullquote]”It would be a difficult thing to do if you didn’t want to do it,” he told the AP. “But I wanted to do it so much that it was a joy. Each day when I saw something completed at the project was a day that I had fulfilled something wonderful in my life.”[/pullquote]
Parks moved to Detroit from Montgomery in 1957 to escape death threats and stayed in the house with her brother and his family.
McCauley was a child then, but she remembers that Parks used to take her for walks in the neighborhood to help struggling families and talk to them about politics.
Seeing the house standing again brought back memories.
“Each little nook and cranny, each part of the board that you see is worn by weather, you know, to me (it) shows her personality. What she went through. As a beautiful woman, as a smart woman. And as a courageous woman.”
The German capital has a long relationship with the United States. It was here that President John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech and President Ronald Reagan implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall.”
There is a Rosa Parks school in Berlin, as well as a Martin Luther King school and kindergarten. King visited the divided city in 1964, giving speeches to crowds on both sides of the Berlin Wall.
“This house is happily here, I believe. Because it finds itself in a city that honors tolerance,” Mendoza said. “This house was rebuilt in a city that was reborn out of a wall being taken down.”
The house will be shown to the public on Saturday along with a film about the project made by Mendoza’s wife, Fabia.
Visitors will not be able to go inside, but lights will be on in the windows and Mendoza will play music from the time when Parks lived there.
After that, the house’s future is uncertain. Mendoza hopes to sell it to an art institution, with all profits going to the Rosa Parks Family Foundation.
Mendoza says he would be happy if the house returns to the U.S. one day. But McCauley says America needs to “grow up as a country” before then.
“So when she grows up, yeah, I wouldn’t mind if aunty Rosa’s house came back to the States. But I don’t want to take it back the way she is now.”