The life of Sarah E. Ray will be celebrated at the Freedom Arts Festival

Often considered Detroit’s other Rosa Parks, Ray paved the way for desegregation. Her legacy will be honored at Palmer Park this weekend.

Sarah E. Ray

Sarah E. Ray

Little is known about civil rights pioneer Sarah Elizabeth Ray. Often considered Detroit’s other Rosa Parks, she was denied a seat on the Boblo Boat while attending a class trip in 1945. She was only 24 years old at the time.

Ray took her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, paving the way for desegregation in Brown v. Board of EducationAnd just like Parks, Ray did not back down when told where she couldn’t sit.

Related: Preserving the Legacy of Sarah Elizabeth Ray, Who Paved the Way for Desegregation in Detroit, U.S.

The festival focuses on freedom, racial justice, history and connection to place.

The Detroit Parks Collation, along with other community groups, are celebrating Ray and other unsung heroes at The Freedom Arts Festival all summer through October.

The festival takes place across eight parks and features music, dance, storytelling and art reflecting Detroit’s multicultural population, featuring original works with a focus on freedom, racial justice, history and connection to place.

Barbara Barefield is a board member for People for Palmer Park.

The organization is leading the celebration for Ray with music and live performances by Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy and  A. Spencer Barefield Quintet.

Additionally, participating artists will also create new works to accompany narratives written by writer/artist Desiree Cooper about Ray.

Barefield says Ray’s civil rights work in the city of Detroit needs to live on.

“The mentorship and the education and the leadership that she helped inspire, I hope will continue to inspire more generations of people in Detroit to follow in her footsteps.”

Ray took her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

A. Spencer Barefield says he can imagine the hurt and anger Ray felt after graduating alongside her classmates and then being denied the same transportation as them.

“You get to the boat and people look at you and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, they’re fine, but you’re not.'”

Future events include the 7th annual COPA Motor City soccer tournament at Clark Park Aug. 28, and the celebration of Etta S. Wilson, an Indigenous journalist who spent her early career birding in Rogue Park, happening Sept. 10.

The celebration of Sarah E. Ray will take place from 1-5 p.m. Saturday outside the Palmer Park Community House. The event is free. 

Listen: Organizers discuss how the Freedom Arts Festival will honor the legacy of Sarah E. Ray


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  • Tia Graham
    Tia Graham is a reporter and Weekend Edition Host for 101.9 WDET. She graduated from Michigan State University where she had the unique privilege of covering former President Barack Obama and his trip to Lansing in 2014.