Consider The Story Of The Sad Years-Long Battle Over Rosa Parks' Belongings For Your Next Film Project...
Photo Credit: S & A

Consider The Story Of The Sad Years-Long Battle Over Rosa Parks' Belongings For Your Next Film Project...


For filmmakers (writers, directors, producers, etc) in search of inspiration for your next script, consider this one: deceased prominent public personality whose belongings (and in some cases whose corpse) are at the center of a years-long legal fight between said person’s heirs (and in some cases heirs and friends of the person). And maybe said belongings include memorabilia of historical significance that the general public today would greatly benefit from, even if only educationally. 

It’s a premise that’s we’ve seen play out in real life a number of times, sadly – more than I’d like to count, quite frankly. And I was reminded of it again today, when I watched a news report on the battle over Rosa Parks’ belongings – a lifetime’s worth of memorabilia, said to be worth millions of dollars, and all of which sits in a New York warehouse, unseen.

The battle is between Parks’ heirs and Parks’ friends – a dispute that’s been in the courts for years apparently, and, sadly, as I noted, is just one of a handful of similar cases with deceased once-prominent public figures (in this case, African American) at the center. The legal fight over Parks’ valuable belongings resembles that for another Civil Rights icon’s estate: Martin Luther King Jr., whose heirs (his children) have long been divided with regards to his legacy. And because of their squabbling, a judge ordered some of the prized items being fought over to be held in a safe deposit box controlled by the court, until the siblings can reach an agreement.

The battle over Parks’ memorabilia led to the government’s involvement, which resulted in them removing her belongings from her home city of Detroit and, sadly, putting the entire estate up for sale to the highest bidder. The proceeds likely to be split amongst her heirs.

But, incredibly (and this could be an intriguing twist to your script), no bidders have emerged! And so all her belongings (items of historical relevance and more) taken from her home city, sit in a warehouse, unseen and unsold – for example, photographs with presidents, her Congressional Gold Medal, a pillbox hat that she may have worn on the Montgomery bus, a signed postcard from MLK, decades of documents from civil rights meetings she attended, her written ruminations about life in the South as a black woman, tributes from presidents and world leaders, school books, family Bibles, clothing, furniture and more.

Parks, who died in 2005 at age 92, stipulated in her will that her estate (via an institute that bears her name) receive the bulk of her belongings. However, her nieces and nephews challenged her will (I didn’t even know that was legally possible; I figured, a will is a will, and it should be honored no matter what), and, surprisingly, her assets were then seized by the courts, and a judge ordered all the items sold in one lump sale.

But, no bidders! And, once again, her belongings sit in some warehouse, gathering dust, and who knows what else! Unbelievable isn’t it?! 

Guernsey’s Auctioneers have kept Parks’ valuables in a New York warehouse since 2006, when a stalemate between heirs and the estate was reached. The asking offer for the items is $8 million to $10 million. But no one is willing to pay that much. To compare, the city of Atlanta paid $32 million to King’s children for his papers, and the Henry Ford Museum paid $492,000 just for the bus on which Parks took her 1955 stand for civil rights.

I’m amazed that no museum has bid on the items. And maybe even more surprising, no African American with the financial means to afford the $8 to $10 million for the estate items (and there are many of us with the funds) has stepped up to meet the asking price. Or maybe a collective of African Americans with the financial means – it doesn’t have to be a single person’s financial *burden.* These are items that should be housed in some public facility (like a museum or university) so that the general public can appreciate them. The 60th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott is next year; let’s hope someone (or some people) claim the items before then.

This is actually quite sad and embarrassing in my opinion. Things like this just shouldn’t happen. Maybe I should start a Kickstarter campaign to try and raise the money from us so-called regular folks, so that we can get Parks’ items out of the New York house where they currently reside.

But, as I started this post suggesting… maybe some enterprising filmmaker can be inspired by this story and write a script loosely based on it (and all the others like it); It could even be a documentary, not about Parks specifically, but about the battle over her belongings (and other similar battles, like the one over MLK), and the fact that a warehouse is where they currently call home, because there apparently isn’t anyone one out there with the money, who thinks this is something of importance – important enough to save.

Or maybe most of us just aren’t aware of any of this.

Watch the news report on the story:

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