Italy is the new home for the house where American civil rights icon Rosa Parks lived after her historic bus boycott. The small, old building can be seen in the central courtyard of the Royal Palace in the city of Naples.
This is the latest stop for the house. When Rosa Parks was alive, the building used to be in Detroit, Michigan. Her niece saved it from destruction after the 2008 financial crisis. She gave it to an American artist who took it apart and rebuilt it for public display in Germany, and now Italy.
The exhibition in Naples opened on Tuesday. It includes a recording called “8:46” that lasts eight minutes and 46 seconds. That is the amount of time government lawyers say it took for George Floyd to be killed by Minneapolis police officers in May. The killing fueled the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around the United States.
Officials later said a white police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes, 46 seconds. They said the one minute difference did not affect the case.
Artist Ryan Mendoza has been working for more than five years to bring attention to the historic value of the old house. Parks lived there for a short time after her 1955 refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama.
For the year that followed, African Americans refused to ride city buses in the first major U.S. protest against racial segregation.
Speaking with The Associated Press, Mendoza said he hoped the grandeur of the Royal Palace would fuel interest in Park’s story. He said it should help America “remember a house it didn’t know it had forgotten.”
Parks lived in the small house with her brother and his family as she struggled to make a new life for herself after receiving death threats following the bus protest. The family says Parks, who died in 2005, lived there with 17 other relatives.
The house was later abandoned and about to be destroyed, but Parks’ niece bought it from the city of Detroit for $500 and gave it to Mendoza. He tried unsuccessfully to get Detroit officials to save the building.
In 2016, Mendoza took the building apart and moved it to Berlin, the German capital. He rebuilt the house on the property near his art studio for the public to see.
Earlier this year, Mendoza asked the Naples-based Morra Greco Foundation to help put together an exhibit. He had once worked for the group. It agreed to help organize the exhibit with the support of the Italian culture ministry and Campania local government.
For Mendoza, the house represents the experience of many African Americans who went north in the last century, only to face housing discrimination and other problems.
“[The] house, in a word, is a way for people to understand why people in America are so enraged,” he said.
The house, he said, is “so fragile that you can almost blow it over.”
But now, “instead of being rejected by the walls of the royal palace, it’s…protected by these walls,” he said.
I’m Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
icon -n. a person who is revered for action or words
courtyard – n. an outdoor space surrounded by three exterior walls
niece – n. the daughter of one's sister or brother
display – n. an exhibit or show
segregation – n. the practice of separating black and white facilities and homes
grandeur – adj. majesty or great beauty
abandon – v. to leave an object behind
enrage – v. to become filled with great anger
fragile – adj. delicate or easily broken