When the collected papers of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. go up for auction next week, don’t expect any small-time memorabilia dealers to make bids.
With a pre-sale value between $15 million and $30 million and the King family’s stipulation that the 10,000 items remain in a single collection, the June 30 sale by Sotheby’s auction house is expected to attract academic and civic institutions.
Those expressing interest include a “pan-Atlanta” consortium in the Georgia capital, where King was born and grew up, various universities and libraries, the National Archives and the Library of Congress, Sotheby’s officials said as the collection went on display Wednesday.
The offering presented a challenge to American institutions “to decide whether or not they want to save the King legacy for posterity,” Sotheby’s vice chairman David Redden said.
A previous sale three years ago failed to materialize.
The collection includes manuscripts, speeches, personal correspondence and an array of day-to-day items bearing notations, comments and thoughts by a man who seemingly used every scrap of paper and never threw any of them away.
They cover the important period of 1946 to 1968, when King, inspired by the example of India’s Mohandas K. Gandhi, formulated his nonviolent strategy for achieving social justice, and became the face and voice of the American civil rights revolution.
Among the papers are more than 100 sermons, a draft of the “I Have a Dream” speech that King delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, and King’s acceptance address when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
They also include a printed version of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” recently discovered in the archive by Elizabeth Muller, vice president for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s. The version was printed in a religious publication, bearing handwritten changes suggested by King.
“So it was a very unusual and wonderful discovery and an indication that there might be more gems that could come from the mother lode, as it were,” Muller says.
The Atlanta fundraising effort to return the King papers there is led by Mayor Shirley Franklin and former Mayor Andrew Young. It includes Emory University, Morehouse College, where King went to school, and the Atlanta History Society.
“We feel we in Atlanta have the strongest arguments, his having been born there, raised there and educated there,” says Lawrence Carter, a professor of religion and dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College.
Carter says he is “certain” that Boston University, where King received a doctorate and which already owns a huge separate archive of King papers, would be another contender for the collection.
Vita Paladino, managing director of the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, earlier told The Associated Press her institution was unlikely to bid.
“It’s a tough price,” said Paladino, who oversees 80,000 papers, dated 1955-1960, that King donated free in 1964 to the school.
— Associated Press
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