It was widely known that Little Caesars founder and Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch was a philanthropist. What most of us didn’t know is that he was particularly fond of late Civil Rights activist and icon Rosa Parks.
Ilitch, 87, died Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. The billionaire started paying Parks’ rent in 1994 and did so for 11 years, up until her death in 2005. When Ilitch heard that there were some concerns over Parks’ welfare and safety after she became the victim of assault and robbery, he made it his business to pay her rent for her apartment in Detroit. On August 30 of that year, Joseph Skipper, 28, unlawfully entered Parks’ home and said to her, “Hey, aren’t you Rosa Parks?” He told her he’d chased off an intruder and wanted a tip. She gave him $3. He wanted more so she gave him $50. A drug addict, he then punched her in the face. She was 81 at the time.
Detroit native and federal judge Damon Keith shared the news with WXYZ: “They don’t go around saying it, but I want to, at this point, let them know, how much the Ilitches not only meant to the city, but they meant so much for Rosa Parks, who was the mother of the civil rights movement.”
Keith actually found Parks’ apartment at Riverfront Towers, an apartment and condominium complex of three luxury high rise residential skyscrapers along the International Riverfront. Ilitch read the story in the newspaper and called Keith offering to pay for Parks’ housing unconditionally and indefinitely.
A native of Tuskegee, Alabama, Parks moved to Detroit shortly after she set Civil Rights history in motion and became the face of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott because she refused to give up her seat to a white woman. Parks was not sitting in the white-only section of the segregated bus. She was sitting in the front row of a middle section of the bus open to African Americans if seats were vacant. Parks and her husband lost their jobs and received death threats. In 1957, they made Detroit their home and she worked as an administrative aide for Congressman John Conyers, Jr.