He Gave an American Icon a Safe Place to Live

Civil rights icon Rosa Parks is remembered across the nation for her refusal to give up her seat on a city bus one fateful day in Alabama.

On December 1, 1955, in the city of Montgomery, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order to give up her seat in the “colored” section to a white passenger — after the “whites only” section was filled.

A businessman who appreciated the life and actions of the woman known as "the mother of the civil rights movement" made sure she had safe housing in her later years. Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars Pizza chain and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, made a difference in Parks’ life, without fanfare or attention.

Ilitch died last week at age 87. Several articles about him in recent days have revealed that for years he paid Parks' rent in a safe neighborhood after she was assaulted and robbed in her Detroit home in 1994, The Week reported. Parks, an Alabama native, moved to Detroit in 1957.

The best measure of success is what you are humbly and quietly able to do for others — as Mike Ilitch admirably did, keeping an American icon safe.

When Ilitch read about Parks' robbery and assault, he notified mutual friends and let them know he was going to pay her rent for as long as necessary.

Parks, then 81, moved to a safe apartment building, where she lived until her death in 2005.

Their mutual friend, Judge Damon Keith, said Ilitch was always doing kind things for others. "It's important that people know what Mr. Mike Ilitch did for Ms. Rosa Parks because it's symbolic of what he has always done for the people of our city," he told The Sports Business Daily in 2014.

It's unknown exactly how long Ilitch paid Parks' rent, said USA Today. Riverfront Associates, owner of Riverfront Apartments, decided in 2004 to allow Parks to live there rent-free until her death.

Related: 'Treat Everyone With the Same Respect'

We can only hope parents will continue to teach the lessons of Ms. Parks — bravery, certainty, and working in your own way to advance society. “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in,” she said later of her actions on the city bus that day.

Perhaps children will learn, too, that the best measure of success is what you are humbly and quietly able to do for others — as Mike Ilitch so admirably did, keeping an American icon safe.

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