Police in Montgomery, Ala. are investigating a theft in which suspects struck the apartment complex that Rosa Parks lived in when she refused to give up her seat to a white person on a city bus.
Montgomery police Sgt. Denise Barnes revealed to the Associated Press Wednesday that suspects who ripped and stole copper wiring from Parks’ former apartment and several other now-vacant units being renovated are being sought by detectives. As for when the thefts occurred, Barnes added that police believe the crimes occurred between 4 p.m. Friday and Monday, the day workers discovered the thefts.
“Vandals came in and pilfered it. They went in and tore out the walls and they stole the copper pipes and pretty much destroyed the apartment,” Evette Hester, executive director of the Montgomery Housing Authority, told the AP.
The organization is working to refurbish the complex as well as enhance its historical aspects. Although Hester knows of seven buildings entered by the thieves, officials were still assessing the specific damage done on Tuesday.
Listed as 634 Cleveland Court in the 1955 police report following her arrest on the bus. Parks’ former apartment carries historical weight in light of her residence at the location from 1951 to 1957, Hester said, adding that the address now honors the civil rights pioneer as Parks Place.
For Rosa Parks Library and Museum director Georgette Norman, the apartment is an important aspect of her life, in part of the fact that it was a public housing project. According to Norman, this piece of information is sometimes “airbrushed” or glossed over in accounts of her life.
This fact is a significant one that can be shared with young people, Norman explained as she emphasized the importance of youth knowing that people of Park’s stature lived in public housing.
“They can say ‘Oh my God… Rosa Parks lived in a housing project and we now revere her,” she mentioned.
Efforts to refurbish Parks’ former apartment included furnishing it with period pieces to reflect what it was like during the time she was there, said Hester, who described the residence as a type of small museum.
Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in defiance of a Montgomery law triggered sparked a yearlong bus boycott and became an enduring symbol of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, the AP noted, while stating that she ultimately moved to Detroit, where she died in 2005.
Despite passing over items such as a sewing machine and furniture, Hester stated that heavy damage was done to the walls, the floor and the bathroom by the thieves.
The theft in Parks’ old apartment comes as housing officials study the idea of improving the way visitors can see the residence and expand exhibits to other apartments nearby when the crimes happened.
At this time, Hester stated that “we certainly have to push the pause button,” regarding the completion of the project. It wasn’t yet clear Tuesday how the damage will affect those plans, she said.
“And so we don’t know at this moment how it will affect the schedule for completing this project,” Hester mentioned.
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