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Atlanta Group Buys Martin Luther King, Jr. Archives


A collection of historical materials belonging to civil rights activist Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. has avoided the auction block ... and found a permanent home in Atlanta. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports that the exhibit, currently on display in New York City, will reside at the college where King graduated thanks to a private donation.

During his career as Sotheby's vice chairman, David Redden sold a copy of the original Declaration of Independence. In early June, he sold the oldest American Flag, and was days away from adding 10,000 papers and books from Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to his resume of important American artifacts to sell under his auction hammer.

"This is the most important private archive in American hands today," he says.

But a last minute effort by a group representing the city of Atlanta - King's hometown - saved this private archive from falling into the hands of the highest bidder.

The collection comes from the King Center, and from the closets and storage space of Coretta Scott King's home after her husband's assassination in 1968. It includes drafts of his sermons, notes from his speeches, and personal annotations throughout hundreds of books.

Elizabeth Muller, Vice President, Books And Manuscripts - Sotheby's says, "This is the most important non-presidential archive in American history for the 20th Century. These documents chronicle a movement which changed the entire complexion of this country… and it was spearheaded by one single man."

The archive covers most of King's adult life, and provides insight into a civil rights movement that - for Reverend King - began in Montgomery and ended in Memphis. Documents were written in hotel rooms, college dormitories and jail cells.

Two significant items are original drafts to his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, and the printed origins of what is now his landmark address at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

Four months after that speech, Reverend King would receive this Western Union telegram… inviting him to the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.

The archive also provides a look at Reverend King's busy life. Hundreds of airline receipts, a briefcase with his initials, and his personal luggage and traveling kit are also part of the collection.

"I asked one of the children, how on earth do you still have all of these, and he said well, mom was a pack rat," Redden says.

Coretta Scott King even saved the letters her husband was carrying the day he was killed in Memphis. They are all part of the archive, intended to sell as one lot, that Sotheby's expected to command between $15 to $30 million.

The city of Atlanta has not disclosed who actually paid for the archive, or how much the King family received for the collection. Morehouse College, a historically black institution in Atlanta and Reverend King's alma mater, is the new home of this significant collection of 20th century American history.

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