Sarah E. Ray’s life will be celebrated at the Freedom Arts Festival

Tia Graham

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 school trip in 1945. She was then only 24 years old.

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



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

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

The festival takes place in eight parks and features music, dance, storytelling and art reflecting Detroit’s multicultural population, with original works focusing on freedom, racial justice, history and connection. with the place.

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

The organization leads Ray’s celebration with music and live performances from the Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy and the A. Spencer Barefield Quintet.

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

Barefield says Ray’s civil rights work in the city of Detroit must continue.

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

Ray took his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court and won.

A. Spencer Barefield says he can imagine the pain and anger Ray felt after graduating alongside his 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.

Upcoming events include the 7th Annual COPA Motor City Soccer Tournament in Clark Park on August 28 and the celebration of Etta S. Wilson, an Indigenous journalist who spent her early career birdwatching in Rogue Park, who will take place on September 10.

Sarah E. Ray’s celebration will take place from 1-5 p.m. Saturday outside 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 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.

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