'Little Caesars' founder paid Rosa Parks' rent for years

We're sure Detroit sports fans everywhere have spent some time reminiscing about their favorite Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings memories over the past few decades following news breaking of the death of Mike Ilitch on Friday.

Here's a heartwarming story you may have missed about the team owner and pizza magnate: Ilitch reportedly once paid for civil rights activist Rosa Parks' rent when she moved into Riverfront Apartments in 1994.

Parks, considered "the first lady of civil rights," had moved to Detroit in 1957 following her famous resistance to racial segregation in 1955. She died in October 2005 at 92 years old.

As reported by Christopher Botta of Sports Business Journal in 2014:

On Aug. 31, 1994, Parks, then 81, was robbed and assaulted in her home in central Detroit. (Judge Damon) Keith called real estate developer Alfred Taubman, the owner of Riverfront Apartments, about finding a safer home for Parks. Taubman pledged to find the best home available.

When Ilitch read about Keith’s plan and Taubman’s promise in the newspaper, he called the judge and said he would pay for Parks’ housing for as long as necessary. (Parks passed away in 2005 at the age of 92). Keith served as the executor of the trust established for Parks’ housing. 

The story also shows a picture of Keith with a copy of a $2,000 check that Ilitch's Little Caesars Enterprises made toward Riverfront Apartments on Nov. 1, 1994.

“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," Keith told the Sports Business Journal in 2014.

It's unknown exactly how long Ilitch paid for Parks' rent. Parks dealt with fiscal woes during the final years of her life in Detroit and faced eviction from her home in 2002 (though her longtime friend and caregiver, Elaine Steele, told the Free Press in 2004 that those eviction notices were mistakenly filed). Riverfront Associates, owner of Riverfront Apartments, decided in 2004 to allow Parks to live there rent-free until her death.

Indeed, it's another example of the kind of impact Ilitch made on the city of Detroit and its people throughout his life.

Ilitch passed away Friday at 87-years-old, according to his company, Ilitch Holdings, and his family will honor him in a private funeral service.

Contact Brian Manzullo: bmanzullo@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrianManzullo.

Copyright DETROIT FREE PRESS


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