Detroit's Other Rosa Parks

Until now, a Detroit civil rights pioneer named Sarah Elizabeth Ray has been largely forgotten. With your help we will expand our short film into an interactive multimedia examination and celebration of her life.

Who was Sarah Elizabeth Ray?

Many Detroiters have fond memories of the boat ride to the Bob-Lo Island amusement park. But do they realize that it was a 24-year-old secretary who made those summer memories possible? 

In 1945, Sarah Elizabeth Ray was refused passage on the Bob-Lo Boat because she was black. Enraged, she went to the NAACP. The resulting lawsuit wended its way through the court system, reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. There, the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall argued her case--and won! Sarah’s fight became one of the test cases leading up to Brown v. Board of Education which, in 1954, struck down “separate but equal” policies nationwide.

She later married Rafael Haskell, a Jewish Communist and labor activist. Sarah  changed her name to Lizz Haskell, and dedicated the rest of her life to community empowerment through the Action House, a community organization the couple established on Detroit’s east side.

She made history. Let’s not forget it.

It’s a travesty that time has forgotten Sarah E. Ray, Detroit’s “other Rosa Parks.” In order to restore her place in history, we are creating a multimedia project revealing the story of her life. The project will include a book of essays, a children's book, a 30-minute documentary, and an interactive website.  

Here's our challenge. Sarah died in near anonymity in 2006, taking her legacy with her. We must now build the body of research needed to support the project. That means hours of hunting through archives, conducting interviews, tracking down documents, etc. The home where Sarah and Rafael lived still remains abandoned on Detroit’s east side. Inside, her personal photographs and letters still lie masquerading as garbage, strewn about on the floor in soggy piles. This isn't only a creative project; it's an archaeology project as well! 


We believe that Ray still has a chance to tell her story, and this project will help her do just that. With seed funds, we will be able to complete the research necessary to support all three projects: the books, the film, and the interactive website. But we can’t do it without you!

With your support, our multimedia project will include:

·   A “scrapbook of essays” about Sarah’s life, including photos and letters

·   An illustrated children’s book

·    A 30-minute documentary accessible free online, perfect for community and educational use, or television broadcast.

·    An interactive website exploring Sarah Ray’s life and accomplishments

·     A publicly accessible archive of Sarah’s photos and documents 

Who we are:


Our team consists of 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and former attorney Desiree Cooper  ; award winning documentary filmmaker Aaron Schillinger  ; and our unstoppable researcher Sarah Grieve.



What’s our timeline?

With your help, we can complete our research and begin writing in 2021, while raising the more ambitious budget for the film project. We anticipate that the project will roll out in 2023 on the 75th anniversary of Sarah’s win before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Jacqueline Brooks 
    • $20 
    • 1 mo
  • Deborah Thompson 
    • $50 
    • 1 mo
  • Gerard Boylan 
    • $250 
    • 1 mo
  • Casey St. John 
    • $50 
    • 1 mo
  • Robert Ian Danic 
    • $100 
    • 2 mos
See all

Fundraising team: Aaron Schillinger & Desiree Cooper (5)

Aaron Schillinger 
Highland Park, MI
Cambrey Thomas 
Team member
Desiree Cooper 
Team member
Team member
Sarah Grieve 
Team member
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