Brown statement on cancellation of Rosa Parks exhibit

Out of respect for the memory of the civil rights icon, Brown will not display a Detroit house that is involved in a dispute among external parties.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown announced in February that final preparations were underway to bring a house belonging to the family of civil rights pioneer and American icon Rosa Parks to the University from Berlin as part of an exhibition on Parks and the Civil Rights Movement. The house is owned by American artist Ryan Mendoza. The University is issuing the following statement regarding a decision to cancel the display of the house.

Statement from Brown University and its Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

Brown University deeply regrets that it must cancel the display of the house that was to be a central focus for a planned exhibition dedicated to Civil Rights Movement pioneer and American icon Rosa Parks, which was scheduled to open in early April.

The University recently learned from the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development that the Detroit house that was to be the focal point of the programming and an exhibition celebrating Rosa Parks and civil rights is the source of a current dispute. Brown does not speak on behalf of the family of Rosa Parks, the institute or the artist who owns the house. It is out of deep respect for the legacy of Rosa Parks and what it represents for America that the University feels it cannot responsibly move forward with the exhibit of the house, previously set to open April 3.

Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ), which was organizing the three-month programming and exhibition associated with the house, will continue making preparations for a separate exhibition on the Civil Rights Movement and the African American political organizing tradition. This distinct exhibit was being planned to take place at the same time as the display of the house. The Civil Rights Movement exhibit will be hosted on Brown’s College Hill campus.

The cancelled exhibition that centered on displaying the Detroit house would have taken place in an exhibit space Brown was preparing at a renovated factory building that is the headquarters of the nonprofit arts organization WaterFire Providence. The house arrived in Providence at the end of February, and assembly had just begun. Artist Ryan Mendoza owns the Detroit home and had displayed it in Berlin before it journeyed to the U.S. in preparation for the Brown exhibition. Brown will immediately begin repackaging the house and arranging to ship it to its next destination, to be determined by Mr. Mendoza.

The separate CSSJ exhibition, titled “The Civil Rights Movement: Unfinished Business,” will advance many of the same goals of the exhibition previously planned for the display of the house — to have a conversation around critical issues of race in America, and to educate about the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Brown remains committed to its work convening difficult conversations on the legacy of slavery. 

The CSSJ was established in 2012 as an outgrowth of Brown’s groundbreaking examination of its historic role in the global slave trade and assessment of what responsibilities it imposes on the University today. Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, the CSSJ supports scholarship on the legacy of slavery and sponsors public education programs that engage communities in learning about the black experience, as part of the American story. 

Brown University is appreciative of the generous support offered by various foundations and sponsors for the formerly planned Rosa Parks exhibition. CSSJ also is appreciative of the outpouring of attention in Rhode Island, across the country and around the world to its efforts to celebrate Rosa Parks and her extensive work for racial and social justice.