Freedom Arts Festival to celebrate ‘Detroit’s other Rosa Parks’

Activist Sarah E. Ray gets her due with day of dance, music, and spoken word performances in next installment of summer arts series

Aug 11, 2022 at 1:39 pm
click to enlarge The Detroit Windsor Dance Academy will perform at the Detroit Parks Coalition Freedom Arts Festival Aug. 20. - Karen F. Sanders
Karen F. Sanders
The Detroit Windsor Dance Academy will perform at the Detroit Parks Coalition Freedom Arts Festival Aug. 20.

Soon enough, Sarah E. Ray will become a Detroit household name. At least, it ought to be.

The unsung civil rights champion helped desegregate the famed Boblo boats in the 1960s and later ran a community youth outreach program where she advocated for racial harmony in the 1970s. She's often referred to as "Detroit's other Rosa Parks."

Ray is getting her due with a day of dance, music, and spoken word performances in her honor during the Detroit Parks Coalition Freedom Arts Festival on Saturday, Aug. 20.

The festival is a free citywide series of summer and fall events to reconnect Detroiters to neighborhood parks. The next installment is dedicated to Ray and will take over Palmer Park.

Featured performances include the Detroit Windsor Dance Academy ensemble led by decorated director Debra White-Hunt, the A. Spencer Barefield Quintet, and a poetry and music duet by Bill Harris and Rev. Robert Jones.

White-Hunt and Barefield will present new works to accompany narratives about Ray written by journalist and historian Desiree Cooper who helped bring the activist’s story to light with the Sarah E. Ray Project.

The project saw Cooper and documentary filmmaker Aaron Schillinger collaborate on an oral history initiative about Ray whose story is also featured in Schillinger’s film Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale. Prior to Cooper and Schillinger's efforts to uncover Ray's obscure story, many people likely had never heard of her.

Now the house where she once lived on Detroit's Eastside is considered one of the “11 Most Endangered” sites in the country. The Detroit Land Bank is looking to sell the historic landmark to someone committed to preserving Ray's legacy.

Sarah E. Ray’s celebration is from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 outside the Palmer Park Community House; 1121 Merrill Plaisance, Detroit. Entry is free.

The Freedom Arts Festival series goes until October across various Detroit parks. Check out the full schedule of upcoming events below:
  • Aug. 17 at the Dequindre Cut: Taiwanese puppet theatre and D. Cipher music series with R&B performer Al Bettis.
  • Aug. 27 at Belle Isle: Art, music, dance, storytelling, and food trucks with the Belle Isle Conservancy.
  • Aug. 2 at Clark Park: Clark Park Coalition’s annual COPA Motor City soccer tournament with local artists, dancing, Mercado, and live entertainment.
  • Sept. 10 at Rouge Park: Celebration of indigenous ornithologist and journalist Etta S Wilson with the Detroit Sugarbush Project and Friends of Rouge Park, plus performances by Vibes with the Tribes.
  • Oct. 1 at Eliza Howell Park: Community singing, dancing, drum performances, and candlelight healing ceremony with Sidewalk Detroit.
More info is available at

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