Sarah Elizabeth Ray was a Civil Rights activist who filed a successful discrimination case after the SS Columbia, a steamboat that carried passengers to Detroit's Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park, ejected her on the basis of race. Her 1948 case was eventually decided in Ray’s favor by the U.S. Supreme Court and was 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.
Following the violent confrontations between Black residents and the city’s police department in the summer of 1967 in Detroit, Ray and her husband opened a community center called Action House to stabilize their neighborhood, promote racial tolerance, and enrich the lives of local children. They also bought the house next door for their primary residence, where Ray lived until her death in 2006. While the Action House was eventually demolished, Ray’s home remains. It is vacant and deteriorated, but still contains her personal papers, photos, books, and memorabilia.
The Sarah Elizabeth Ray Project is leading the effort to save the house, conserve its contents, and elevate the story of this little-known Civil Rights activist.
The Sarah E. Ray House was placed on America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2021 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.