The founder of the Little Caesars pizza franchise helped iconic civil rights figure Rosa Parks during her time of need, quietly paying the rent for her apartment in downtown Detroit for more than a decade.
The generosity of Mike Ilitch, who also owned the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings franchises, came to light in an article published in Sports Business Daily in 2014. Federal judge Damon Keith repeated the story for WXYZ after Ilitch’s death last Friday at the age of 87. In 2014, Keith, a Federal Court of Appeals judge for nearly 50 years, displayed a check for $2,000, dated Nov. 1, 1994, from Little Caesars Enterprises to Riverfront Apartments.
“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,” Keith told WXYZ.
In December 1955, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a white passenger. She was arrested for civil disobedience, but the ensuing bus boycott by blacks was a key moment in the civil rights movement.
Parks was fired from her job as a seamstress in a Montgomery department store and moved to Detroit. In 1994, she was robbed and assaulted in her home when she was 81.
Keith called real estate developer Alfred Taubman, the owner of Riverfront Apartments, about finding a safer home for Parks, Sports Business Daily reported. Ilitch read the story and called Keith, offering to pay Parks’ housing indefinitely, WXYZ reported. He continued to pay for the apartment until Parks died at age 92 on Oct. 24, 2005.
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley posted a link to the original story on Facebook, writing that it “will give you a sense of the kind of man Mike Ilitch was.”
“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 told WXYZ. “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.”