Civil Rights hero’s Detroit dwelling named one in every of most endangered historic locations

Before civil rights icon Rosa Parks got on the bus in Alabama, Park’s hometown of Detroit had a boat fight, but she was not involved. It was a civil rights hero who took over the boats, and now their abandoned house to the east of the city is attracting national attention.

Save Sarah E. Ray’s home in Detroit

Almost 80 years ago, Sarah E. Ray took a stand after being turned away on a boblo boat to the island. She continued to be a civil rights activist in Detroit, but her home and life are in danger of being lost.

Lizz Haskell and her husband Rafael founded the Action House in the east of the city more than 50 years ago. TV 2 was there in 1969 when the nonprofit welcomed families, including children, to all kinds of programs aimed at promoting peace and racial tolerance after the 1967 rebellion.

Jesse Williams and his siblings were part of Action House and said Haskell set them up for success.

“She had a school, sewing lessons, music lessons, reading – things like that. We had everything a child could have, learn from, and build from. We learned from her, ”he said.

Action House has since been demolished, but Lizz’s house next door remains. Since her death in 2006, however, the abandoned house has become a landfill for scrap tires and urgently needs to be restored and preserved.

In addition to the building, the content inside is particularly important. They tell the story of Lizz and Action House, but also of Lizz’s civil rights work earlier in life.

“I heard from Lizz and met her at some point. I had no idea, no idea that I could actually go to Boblo because of her as a kid,” said community activist Angela Wilson.

Boblo Island, the famous amusement park on an island in the Detroit River, was only accessible by Boblo Boats. But not for everyone.

Lizz Haskell was also known as Sarah Elizabeth Ray and was interviewed shortly before her death when she was thrown from Boblo Boat in 1945 for being black.

“The ticket reader took tickets and took tickets and when he took the ticket out of my hand. He saw the color and looked up – and then he said nothing,” she said. “Two men – they were wearing white coats – came and drove straight towards me – and they came and said ‘you have to get off the boat’. I asked why At that time we were called negroes – on the boat. “

She was 24 and was dating her white classmates from the secretarial school that day. She was furious and contacted the NAACP and went to court along with Thurgood Marshall and won. The boat owners appealed to the Supreme Court, where Sarah Ray won again.

Thurgood Marshall would win Brown vs. Board of Education and end segregation in schools. He also became a Supreme Court judge. In the meantime, Sarah would marry Elizabeth Ray and become the community activist Lizz Haskell.

In the 1970s, she rose up against a ramshackle house in her neighborhood – which brings us back to the present day where her former home is dilapidated and abandoned.

But there is national attention to their home and attempts are being made to save it.

“The National Trust for Historic Preservation has selected Sarah’s home in east Detroit as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites,” said Desiree Cooper.

Cooper, a former Detroit Free Press reporter who interviewed Sarah Ray before she died, is committed to keeping her legacy alive. She and the filmmaker Aaron Schillinger are already producing a short film in stop animation, but are now expanding it to save the house and its history.

“We found out it was on the list and immediately spoke to the Detroit Land Bank and they removed it from the list,” said Cooper.

The late Lizz Haskell's house has been empty since 2006.

The late Lizz Haskell’s house has been empty since 2006.

Not only that, they allow Schillinger to go into the house, which is a time capsule.

“(There were) documents on the floor, a chest of drawers with documents and pictures. In fact, Sarah Elizabeth Ray’s handwriting can be seen on some of these letters and documents and I was just blown away. I thought – this is like our story right here. Who knows what we might find if we can actually go through all of these things, “said Schillinger.

The Sarah E. Ray project, which tells the story of the remarkable woman, has also evolved into a conservation project. Cooper and Schillinger are looking for people who know about this, and people who were children of Action House or contemporaries of Lizz Haskell, to get in touch.

“I feel like Sarah Elizabeth Ray is getting recognition, but it’s also a call to action because it’s at risk. We need help to save this house and also the materials that are in it,” said Schillinger .

“We can’t lose this story,” said Cooper.

If you want to help, go to to share your story, sign a petition to save the house, or donate.

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