Rosa Parks Won a Fight, but Left a Licensing Rift

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Rosa Parks — civil rights symbol in life, marketing phenomenon in death — has become the centerpiece of the kind of posthumous peddling usually associated with athletes and Hollywood stars. While licensing experts estimate the current value of selling Mrs. Parks’s image at only six figures a year, they say that over time millions of dollars will be made by those who control her likeness. Mrs. Parks’s courage and standing have also made her one of the few recent African-American political figures, along with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, whose image can generate handsome profits.

While the likenesses of historical and political figures, from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, are commonly plastered on all sorts of knickknacks, milking the image of Mrs. Parks offers a particularly resonant example of the fine line between good taste and bad, between memorialization and exploitation and between the positive and negative uses of hard-core business marketing.

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