Civil Rights Tour: Protest - O Street Mansion, Rosa Parks' "Home Away from Home."

2020 O Street NW

The O Street Mansion was the Washington home-away-from-home of civil rights icon Rosa Parks (1913-2005) during her later years. Already a seasoned organizer, activist, and member of the NAACP, Parks helped spark the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus. Three-quarters of the riders on city buses were African Americans, and some, fed up with racist abuse at the hand of drivers and white passengers, had been planning a boycott. Parks’s arrest became the triggering event, earning her the nickname “mother of the civil rights movement.”

Decades later, in 1994, Parks was left injured and traumatized after a targeted attack and robbery inside her Detroit home. At the request of their mutual friend Willis Edwards, president of the Beverly Hills branch of the NAACP, a Washington, DC hotelier, Ms. H.H. Leonards invited Parks to rest and heal at her Dupont Circle home and inn, known as the O Street Mansion. Parks eventually returned to Detroit but stayed with Lady H (Parks’ name for Leonards) during her frequent visits to DC. It was at the O Street Mansion that Parks met with heads of state and other dignitaries, as well as entertainers, and friends, and occasionally hosted formal Sunday Gospel Brunches, for example one in December 1998 to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of the start of the Montgomery bus boycott and another the next June to mark her receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal.

Over the years the O Street Mansion, which comprises five historic and more recent adjoining rowhouses (2016-2022 O Street) has hosted a number of other civil rights notables, including Willis Edwards and Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, and it has supported African American artists.