Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars founder and Detroit Tigers owner, died last Friday. That’s sort of old news. What’s newish news is that, without any fanfare, Ilitch had an impact on the daily life of one of the most iconic figures from the civil rights movement. For more than a decade, Ilitch had quietly paid for Rosa Parks’ apartment in downtown Detroit. That story came to light thanks to Damon Keith, a Detroit native and federal judge.
In 1994, Parks was robbed and assaulted in her home at the age of 81. Keith, himself an important legal figure in the civil rights movement, worked to find Parks a new, safer apartment. Ilitch read the story in the newspaper and called Keith, offering to pay for Parks’ housing indefinitely. With no fanfare, Ilitch continued paying for the apartment until Parks died in 2005.