Mike Ilitch: pizza mogul, sports team owner, humanitarian.
The owner of the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers and the Little Caesars pizza chain is being recognized as all three in the week after he died at the age of 87.
Ilitch was known for his achievements in sports and business. But what’s less well known is that he paid the rent of civil rights icon Rosa Parks after she was beaten and robbed in 1994.
Parks was living in central Detroit on Aug. 31, 1994, when she was assaulted in her home, the Sports Business Journal reported in 2014.
Judge and civil rights activist Damon Keith subsequently jump-started an effort to find a safer home for the woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955.
Ilitch read about Keith’s effort in a newspaper. He then called the judge and said he would pay for Parks’ shelter as long as she needed him to.
Ilitch and his wife Marian then cut a “substantial cheque” from Little Caesars Enterprises so that Parks could live at Riverfront Apartments in downtown Detroit, Keith told CNN affiliate WXYZ last week.
The Ilitches didn’t go around telling people what they did for Parks, Keith added.
But now, he wants people to know how much they “not only meant to the city, but they meant so much for Rosa Parks, who was the mother of the civil rights movement.”
“You’ll never discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose the sight of the shore. Mike and Marian had the courage to lose sight of the shore, and discover new oceans.”
It’s not entirely certain how long the Ilitches paid Parks’ rent.
Keith said they paid it until Parks died in 2005, at the age of 92.
But the Detroit Free Press reported that Parks was allowed to live at Riverfront Apartments rent-free from 2004 onward.
Nevertheless, Keith wants people to know what the Ilitches did for Detroit — and for a key figure in the history of U.S. civil rights.
“They kept pushing Detroit, and if it had not been for them, Detroit would not be in the renaissance that they’re in now,” he told WXYZ.