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Rosa Parks’ family, friend to share power over estate

DETROIT – The marketing of civil rights icon Rosa Parks’ legacy – with potentially tens of millions of dollars at stake over the licensing and use of her name and likeness – now lies in the hands of her family as well as her long-term caregiver.

After a yearlong legal fight, Parks’ 13 nieces and nephews – her only living relatives – won the right to have a say under terms of a settlement in Wayne County Probate Court.

Since her death in October 2005, Parks’ image has appeared in advertising for major brands, including Chevy Silverado trucks and Apple computers. Her family sued to gain some control, they said, because they feared her legacy would be marred.

Though terms of the settlement were sealed Monday by Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr., the Detroit Free Press has learned:

“That a portion of proceeds from the sale of Parks’ likeness will go to her heirs for college tuition and scholarships.

“That the family will represent her during dedications of memorials or when schools and parks are named for her.

“That a Detroit nonprofit she founded will receive outside oversight in the hope of returning it to financial solvency.

People familiar with the settlement revealed some of the details on the condition that they not be identified.

“We’re happy about the settlement,” said William McCauley, 49, one of Parks’ nephews. “We as a family are going to continue to ensure that her legacy is portrayed in a positive light, and continue the work she started years ago.”

Parks left all of her assets to the nonprofit Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she founded in 1987 with her friend and caregiver, Elaine Steele. The institute encourages young people to reach their potential through education.

Over the years, the institute has been sued for not paying its bills and has had tax liens placed against it. Steele, who serves as an officer with the institute, has said that she tried to keep the nonprofit afloat, but money was always tight.

The family contested Parks’ 1998 will, saying she suffered from dementia when she signed it and was unduly influenced by Steele. Steele, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, has always maintained that she only wanted to preserve Parks’ true passions – children and education.


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