Rosa Parks’ Coat Triggers 12 Year Court Battle

Posted on: Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

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Earlier this week, the Michigan Court of Appeals handed down a decision, presumably bringing an end to litigation that has been ongoing since Rosa Parks died. She died October 24, 2005, in Detroit.

In the end, the parties were fighting about her coat. To be fair, not just any coat, but the coat she was wearing when she changed the course of history by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama.

The court decision is lengthy, and details a history of legal battles that have gone on in Wayne County courts since her death. You can read the case by clicking here.

The short version is that Rosa Parks had no children, but her heirs engaged in a will contest against a charitable foundation. The foundation claimed to be the beneficiary of a will purportedly created by Ms. Parks. In the end, the heirs and the foundation reached a deal to share the funds they expected to receive from the sale of the historically significant items that Ms. Parks owned, and from licensing the rights to use her likeness. As part of that agreement, one niece agreed to turn over the coat that Ms. Parks wore on that eventful day in 1955. However, the niece never produced the coat and later claimed she did not know what happened to it. Ultimately the trial court provides no remedy to the aggrieved foundation, and essentially tells the parties to move on. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

By all accounts,  Rosa Parks was a humble person. One might even imagine that had she come across a person in need, she would have given them her coat. So we wonder what it says about people and our legal system that this case becomes part of her legacy. Through her acts Rosa Parks contributed to great changes, but I guess some things never change.

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