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  • Artist's InterventionFrom Detroit to Berlin: Rosa Parks' House Re-membered
  • Ryan Mendoza (bio)

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Figure 1.

Ryan Mendoza outside of Rosa Parks House. Photograph by Lennart Brede.

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Before getting involved in the Rosa Parks House project, I was a twenty-five-year-old expatriate living in Berlin. Having lost touch with my country I thought that, rather than distance myself further from American values, I would embrace them fully in an attempt to colonize Europe with actual American houses. This was the start of what came to be known as the White House project. That first house was donated by friend of mine, native Detroiter Gregg Johnson, and was first located on Stoepel Street just off of Eight Mile, the road that divides a segregated Detroit.

After the White House was brought to Europe to the Verbeke Foundation, I gained adequate knowledge of how wooden houses could be disassembled and reassembled. On my trips back and forth to Detroit, I met, through Gregg Johnson at a performance at the Charles H. Wright Museum where the Rosa Parks House might possibly be conserved, Gregg Dunmore and Joel Boykin of Pulsebeat TV, who, on hearing of my endeavors, put me in contact with Rhea McCauley, Rosa Parks's niece.

McCauley and I met on a wintry day in front of 2672 S. Deacon Street, where the three-bedroom house Rosa Parks had lived in with fifteen family members stood in a decaying stoicism. I remember the floors were dipping and the house moved ever so slightly with the wind; the back wall was patched together with the doors (Figure 1).

The projects I had completed in Detroit dealt with the housing crisis, a subtext that is also inextricable from the Rosa Parks House project. Rhea McCauley, who lived in the house with her aunt, had recently bought it off of a demolition list for five hundred dollars. When local government and institutions showed no interest in helping her restore the house as a monument, she suggested we work together. Our petition for local support was also turned down, so we decided to ship the house to Berlin. It proved essential that the house be extricated from its location for the world to pay attention.

In situ literally means "in its original location." The phrase implies a sense of stillness. There is little stable about the status of a house or a homeowner in Detroit. Rosa came to Detroit fleeing death threats but experienced little refuge there. After living for two years with her brother, sister-in-law, and their thirteen children in the house that is the center of this [End Page 159]

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Figure 2.

Rosa Park House before final demolition in Detroit, August 2016. Image courtesy of Fabia Mendoza Kopie.

project, Rosa moved multiple times. She suffered an assault in her home at the age of eighty-one and was threatened with eviction at ninety-one. While Detroit was briefly renowned as a place where black residents reached significant levels of home ownership, Rosa never owned a home. She called Detroit "the Northern promised land that wasn't."1 Housing issues, centered around segregation and displacement due to urban renewal, were central to Rosa's activism her entire life. Detroit has ranked among the ten most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States since the mid-twentieth century. By the early 1960s, urban renewal and highway construction destroyed 10,000 structures in Detroit, displacing over 40,000 people, 70 percent of whom were African American. More recently, since the housing crisis of the late 2000s, foreclosure and demolition swept the city, leaving more than 70,000 abandoned buildings, 31,000 empty houses, and 90,000 vacant lots. Parks's own home was demolished in 2016 (Figure 2).

For over forty years, these four walls and roof were a home. It was the place that Rosa's brother sought to create a better life for his family after he returned from World War II, where Rosa's nieces and nephews grew up and where Rosa lived for her first two years in Detroit. When...


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