Good News for the Sarah E. Ray House!

March 29, 2023 by Kelly Paras

On March 28, 2023, the Detroit Land Bank approved the sale of the Sarah E. Ray House to Detroit business leader Shannon Steel. It has been a long journey for the Sarah E. Ray Project, but now the site is in the hands of someone who embraces the significance of the property and wishes to honor Sarah Ray's legacy.

Sarah Elizabeth Ray was a remarkably influential Civil Rights activist though her story has largely been untold. A decade before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, 24-year-old Ray filed a successful discrimination case after the SS Columbia, a steamboat that carried passengers to Detroit's Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park, removed her from the vessel on the basis of race.

The 1948 case reached the U.S. Supreme Court and was decided in Ray’s favor, becoming an important precursor to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which struck down the doctrine of separate but equal educational facilities in 1954.

Ray’s Civil Rights work in Detroit continued over her lifetime. She and her husband opened Action House, a community center to promote racial tolerance and enrich the lives of local children, and she lived in the house next door until her death in 2006.

While the Action House was eventually demolished, Ray’s home remains. It has sat vacant and deteriorating, but now has a bright future.

The new owner, Shannon Steel, plans to turn the home into a museum and the adjoining lot into a community garden dedicated to Ray’s memory.

The Sarah. E. Ray House was included on the National Trust's list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2021.

This May, our Preservation Month theme is “People Saving Places” to shine the spotlight on everyone doing the work of saving places—in big ways and small—and inspiring others to do the same!