Rosa Parks niece says coat aunt gave her wasnt famous one
July 26, 2011
She got the old coat from her aunt. It wasnt very stylish. And she really didnt want it.
But how do you say no when your aunt is Rosa Parks, the civil rights icon, who wants to give you a coat so you can dress warmly at college?
You just say thank you and give your aunt a hug, Susan McCauley, 56, of suburban Atlanta said Friday about the coat Parks gave her in the 1970s when she was a Michigan State University student.
The coat is identified in court records as the one Parks wore in 1955 when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the modern civil rights movement.
A judge ordered that it be turned over as part of a 2007 settlement to end a bitter estate feud between Parks 13 nieces and nephews, and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, which Parks founded in 1987 with her longtime protégé Elaine Steele.
The institutes lawyer, Steven Cohen, said that as part of a confidential settlement agreement, the relatives agreed to produce the coat in exchange for a portion of royalties for licensing Parks name, image and likeness. McCauley said the agreement called for the institute and the relatives to split intellectual royalties 80%-20%, respectively.
Now, it appears an important piece of American history may be gone.
McCauley said she doesnt know where the coat is. Besides, she said, it wasnt her aunts famous coat. She said Parks, a seamstress, had made the long, slate blue, buttonless wool wrap for Parks mother, Leona McCauley.
She said her grandmother was wearing the coat in a photo in Parks 1992 book, My Story.
If she had told me it was an historic coat, I wouldnt have worn it, Susan McCauley said. I would have said, Auntie Rosa, why are you giving this to me?
McCauley said she lost track of the coat during her repeated moves between Georgia and California in the 1980s and 90s.
She also said Wayne County Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr. threatened to lock her up for contempt of court for failing to produce the coat as called for in the agreement. Parks died in 2005 at 92.
McCauley said she signed the agreement without reading it and had no idea it required her to contribute the coat to Parks memorabilia collection. She said she and her siblings had relied on their brother, William McCauley, to negotiate the deal.
William McCauley couldnt be reached for comment.
In 2009-10, contrary to Parks wishes in her living trust, Burton stripped the institute and Steele of its memorabilia and intellectual property on the grounds that Cohen had reportedly divulged details of the secret settlement during a hearing at the Michigan Court of Appeals. Cohen denies this.
On Tuesday, Cohen asked the Michigan Supreme Court to take up his appeal and order that the memorabilia and intellectual property rights be returned. He charged that Burton replaced Parks co-personal representatives with two Detroit probate lawyers who werent involved in the settlement, John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr., and who billed the estate for $243,000 two-thirds of the estates cash value for unnecessary services.
A New York auction house is trying to sell the collection, and Burton plans to give the proceeds to a charity of his choosing.
Susan McCauley said she is disappointed that Chase and Jefferson have gotten so much money from the estate and that none of Parks intended beneficiaries have received a dime from the estate.
Its such a tragedy, McCauley said. Its not the way Auntie Rosa would have wanted it. I dont think her spirit can rest with the way this has been handled.