Mike Ilitch, the former Detroit Tigers and Red Wings owner who died last week, quietly paid the rent for civil rights icon Rosa Parks during her later years.
Ilitch was known for his philanthropic efforts, but news of his intervention with Parks was unknown to the public.
“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,” Federal Judge Damon Keith, of Detroit, told WXYZ-TV.
Shortly after Parks’ iconic decision to defy segregation rules in Alabama by not giving up her bus seat to a white passenger, she moved with her family to Detroit and became an important figure in the community.
Parks, at age 81, was robbed and assaulted in her home in 1994.
Keith told the Sports Business Daily in a 2014 that he helped find Parks a safer place to live. She eventually settled at the Riverfront Apartments in Detroit, according to the journal.
Ilitch read the story in the newspaper, contacted Keith and offered to pay her rent for the rest of her life, which he did until Parks died in 2005.
Ilitch’s help, without any fanfare, showed his commitment to the area. Keith told the station that Illitch helped usher in a new beginning for the city.
“You’ll never discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Mike and (his wife) Marian had the courage to lose sight of the shore and discover new oceans,” Keith said. “They kept pushing Detroit, and had it not been for them, I am saying, Detroit would not be in the renaissance that they’re in now.”