Police probe theft from Rosa Parks' old apartment

This Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 photo shows Rosa Parks' landmark home at 634 Cleveland Court in Montgomery, Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Thieves have struck the apartment complex where Rosa Parks lived when she made history by refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, police said Tuesday.

Detectives are seeking suspects who ripped and stole copper wiring from Parks' former apartment and several other now-vacant units being renovated, Montgomery police Sgt. Denise Barnes said. Workers discovered the thefts Monday. Police believe the crimes happened between 4 p.m. Friday and Monday, Barnes said.

"Vandals came in and pilfered it. They went in and tore out the walls and they stole the copper pipes and pretty much destroyed the apartment," said Evette Hester, executive director of the Montgomery Housing Authority, which has been working to refurbish the complex and enhance its historic aspects.

Hester knows of seven buildings entered by the thieves, but officials Tuesday were still assessing the specific damage done.

Parks' former apartment at 634 Cleveland Court is listed as her address in the 1955 police report following her arrest on the bus.

Her refusal to give up her seat in defiance of a Montgomery law sparked a yearlong bus boycott and became an enduring symbol of the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

Parks lived in the apartment on Cleveland Court -- now known as Parks Place in her honor -- from 1951 to 1957, Hester said. She later moved to Detroit, where she died in 2005.

This Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 photo shows damage to the kitchen of Rosa Parks' landmark home in Montgomery, Ala.AP Photo: Brynn Anderson

This Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 photo shows damage to the kitchen of Rosa Parks' landmark home in Montgomery, Ala.

Parks' former apartment is an important aspect of her life, partly because it was a public housing project -- a fact that is sometimes "airbrushed" or glossed over in accounts of her life, said Georgette Norman, director of the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery.

Norman said it's important for young people, in particular, to know that people of Parks' stature lived in public housing.

"They can say 'Oh my God... Rosa Parks lived in a housing project and we now revere her," Norman said.

The apartment where Parks lived had been furnished with period pieces to reflect what it was like during the time she was there, said Hester, who described it as a type of small museum.

Pieces such as a sewing machine and furniture were spared, but the vandals did heavy damage to the walls, the floor and the bathroom, Hester said.

Housing officials had been studying the idea of improving the way visitors can see Parks' former apartment and expanding the exhibits to other apartments nearby when the crimes happened. It wasn't yet clear Tuesday how the damage will affect those plans, Hester said.

"We certainly have to push the pause button," she said. "And so we don't know at this moment how it will affect the schedule for completing this project."