MOTHER Parks, we are told, is not coming to the party. Ten days after being robbed in her home, one of the most celebrated women in American history is back in hospital, because her pacemaker was damaged in the assault. So instead of cutting the enormous cake, decorated in icing bearing a smudgy likeness of her face, we are asked to join hands in prayer.
This was to have been a special moment of consolation for Rosa Parks, otherwise known as the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" in America. The apartment we are in, high in an exclusive residential complex on the edge of the Detroit River, is being partially donated to her by sympathisers as a safer home in which to pass her declining years.
In the run of urban crime, the attack on the 81-year-old Mrs Parks - just another defenceless widow - was almost mundane. After she had gone to bed, she was awoken by a man breaking down the back door. He asked for money, and she gave him a few dollars. He demanded more. He left after taking $56 ( pounds 38) and battering Mrs Parks badly enough to put her in hospital.
Yet what occurred was unusually poignant and may become symbolic.
He was a black man, and his victim was not any old lady. She was the Rosa Parks, who has avenues across the country named after her - the former seamstress who on 1 December 1955 boarded a bus on her way home from work in a department store in Montgomery, Alabama. It was her simple action on that bus that afternoon, which set off the long struggle for equal rights for all black people in America, including those of her assailant.
In the saga of black-white relations, it is one of the most compelling stories. After boarding the bus, she obediently - under the old segregationist laws - found a seat towards the rear, just behind the front rows reserved for whites. But when the white section filled up and the driver asked her and three other blacks to stand at the back to allow other whites to sit down, Rosa Parks refused.
Her defiance and subsequent arrest galvanised black leaders in the city - including a youthful minister named Martin Luther King - and triggered a black boycott of the Montgomery buses, which lasted nearly a year.
It marked the beginning of the revolution that led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1968.
Now Rosa Parks may be about to take on a less happy, symbolism - representing thousands of victims of violent crime in American cities, especially in black communities.
An epidemic of black-on- black crime is raging in America, which black leaders themselves, including the Rev Jesse Jackson, are beginning to identify as the new battleground for the black struggle. It is so prevalent, Mr Jackson said recently, that "we have come to accept it as normal".
Some civic leaders hope to use what happened to Mrs Parks as a clarion call to African Americans. But Mrs Parks, a soft-spoken lady with greying hair and glasses, may not relish such a role. …