Naples is the last place I would expect to see something related to the struggle for Civil Rights in America. But there I was in the San Ferdinando district, admiring The Royal Palace from the 17th Century when inside the Courtyard of Honour was this:
The home of Rosa Parks. The home in which she lived after she fled death threats following her dramatic refusal to give up her seat on a bus. The Detroit, Michigan home where she lived with her brother and sister-in-law and their thirteen children after she left Montgomery, Alabama. The home where she hoped to find a better life than in the South. Instead, while riding the bus was no problem, she found housing segregation to be just as bad in Detroit as it was in Alabama and, as she said, more obvious.
She was with family which meant she was certainly home, yet she still found herself on the outskirts of home with her country.
It was in this house, in the Virginia Park neighborhood of Detroit, that she focused most of her activism on housing issues. By 1962, urban renewal policies had destroyed 10,000 structures in Detroit, displacing over 30,000 African-Americans (70% of all those who were affected).
As Ms. Park’s health began to decline, she moved from this house to several senior housing facilities, first to care for her ailing mother and then by herself. The rest of her family left this house in 1982 and the home stood empty for decades. Her niece, Rhea McCauley purchased the home but lacked the finances needed to restore it and could not secure funding for that purpose. Consequently, in 2016, the house was scheduled to be demolished.
And that’s when American artist Ryan Mendoza decided to save it. He took it to his home in Berlin and had it reassembled in his garden. And now, as he lives in Naples, Italy, he has brought the Rosa Parks home to Naples.
Each time the home is taken apart, moved, and rebuilt, or re-membered, Mendoza says we are given the opportunity to re-member how we think about American history.
Rosa Parks was not a meek and tired woman who participated in activism for just one day in 1955. Instead, she was a life-long activist for equal rights, civil rights, human rights.
As the United States continues to grapple with who is remembered as a hero and what memorials we will keep and those we will take down, it behooves us to consider the Rosa Park home as a place worth conserving.
This is not the grand home of a general, a president, or a philanthropist. This is not a large home. It is small and decaying. And yet, this home speaks volumes. This home has stories. This is the home of a woman and her family who lived their lives trying to keep their home and trying to make their home country a better place for all.
Almost Home. To be home but not quite fully at home. To be free but not completely free. To be a home not in the home of its origin.
Maybe one day.
What do you think? Can you imagine living in this tiny home with fifteen other people? Do you think this home is worth saving? What do you think of the juxtaposition of this small humble home in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Naples?