PROVIDENCE – A home that once belonged to the family of civil rights icon Rosa Parks may yet be unveiled in the city, despite Brown University’s canceling of an exhibit that was scheduled to open next month.
In a Friday statement, WaterFire Providence said, “Brown University’s withdrawal from our partnership exhibiting artist Ryan Mendoza’s ‘2672 South Deacon’ has not changed our passion regarding the importance of the work. The art installation includes a house of refuge for Rosa Parks and her husband Raymond as they left Alabama for Detroit.
“Over the next few days we will be hard at work with the artist and [others] … to explore opportunities to continue plans to present Mr. Mendoza’s art for Providence residents, all Rhode Islanders and visitors from across the nation. We appreciate all of the local, national and international outreach and interest in supporting this important work of art, and we hope to be able to welcome visitors to the WaterFire Arts Center to experience it soon.”
On Thursday, Brown announced it was withdrawing from its partnership with WaterFire and the artist, citing an unspecified dispute over the house.
Mendoza told Providence Business News he was caught off-guard by Brown’s decision. He owns the house and has been reconstructing it at WaterFire’s art center.
“I just hate cowards” he said. “Brown has slipped out of the backdoor of this project very nefariously.”
According to The Associated Press, Brown spokesman Brian Clark said in an email that the university “took steps quickly upon learning recently about the dispute,” which the university said involved the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.
“We know that individuals involved in the dispute intended to object strongly if the exhibit proceeded,” he said. “It is out of our respect for the legacy of Rosa Parks that Brown is stepping aside.”
A lawyer for the institute, Steven Cohen, told The Brown Daily Herald student newspaper last month that Parks never stayed in the house.
But Parks family members dispute that and WaterFire says there are credible accounts “by family members, neighbors and others” that Parks stayed at the house “on and off for several years.”
The home, which was owned by Parks’ brother, was acquired by Mendoza in 2016. He had it dismantled and shipped to his Berlin, Germany, home. Looking for a way to return the structure to U.S. soil, he contacted Brown, which agreed to arrange a Providence exhibit focused on the civil rights movement from April 3 to June 4.
The university says an educational exhibit will still take place on the school’s College Hill campus, without the house.