News Column

Rosa Parks' heirs and institute gain from estate sale

August 30, 2014

By Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press

Aug. 30--It has been hidden from view since her death in 2005 at age 92.

But this week's sale of the estate of civil rights icon Rosa Parks -- including her Congressional Medal of Freedom -- was a relief to lawyers and family members locked in an eight-year court fight, said the attorney for Parks' heirs.

The sale had two Detroit-area museum directors hopeful that the collection might soon be available to scholars and the public. The owner of the New York auction house that sold the collection said the buyer was seeking a museum or college that would house the collection. One of Parks' nieces said Friday she and family members shared that hope that scholars and the rest of the public will be able to view the collection.

Sheila Keys, 55, of Northville and other heirs met with the attorney Friday to confirm their expected inheritance of shares in the sale to a foundation endowed by Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett for $4.5 million.

"It has been a long, long road," Keys said.

"We're really pleased that the Buffett Foundation purchased it. They do some good things," she said, adding: "Our feeling is that this was priceless, and our aunt was priceless."

"And we know that the check won't bounce," quipped the heirs' attorney, Larry Pepper. Qualifying as heirs are Parks' 13 surviving nieces and nephews, plus two children of a nephew who is deceased, Pepper said. After the auctioneer's commissioner of 12.5%, Pepper said 20% of the remaining proceeds of the sale was to be split among the heirs -- resulting in shares of various amounts averaging around $50,000. Parks and her husband, Raymond Parks, had no children.

The remaining 80% is to go to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which has operated for years on a shoestring budget of donations from an office on Griswold in downtown Detroit, said the institute's attorney, Steve Cohen.

"It's not a lot, individually, but we're all pleased the way this has concluded," Pepper said.

The Buffett Foundation "has no real place to exhibit this," he added. So, family members hoped that Buffett's son Howard, who runs the foundation, would donate the collection to a college or museum, Pepper said.

"I'd love to see it go to The Henry Ford," he said. The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn owns the bus on which Parks helped to end segregation by refusing to give up her seat for a white man in Montgomery, Ala. The museum is open this weekend, and it has free admission on Labor Day.

Patricia Mooradian, president of The Henry Ford, said Friday in a statement: "Rosa Parks' story is so important to the fabric and foundation of American history. ... It's wonderful that this collection will be shared with the American public."

Contact Bill Laitner: and 313-223-4485.


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Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)

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