King secretary to auction items from U.S. civil rights leader

Tue Oct 8, 2013 5:03pm EDT
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By Emily Le Coz

RIDGELAND, Mississippi (Reuters) - A civil rights activist who worked as Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal secretary is auctioning off a rare collection of items, including the final page of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Thirty-nine archives belonging to former King secretary Maude Ballou, some of which were the focus of a lawsuit brought by his heirs, are set for sale on October 17 at the New York gallery of Heritage Auctions.

Opening bids range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for artifacts that offer a glimpse of the civil rights movement from the front lines, the auction house said.

"Many of the things we're offering in this auction are very unique, and there really hasn't been anything like it ever on the market," said Sandra Palomino, Heritage's director of historical manuscripts.

Among the mementos Ballou preserved from those years are eight note cards handwritten by King for a December 1959 speech he gave to his Dexter Avenue Baptist Church congregation in Montgomery, Alabama, to announce his departure to focus on the civil rights movement.

The church, now a National Historic Landmark, had served as King's headquarters for organizing the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked by Rosa Parks, a black woman charged with violating segregation laws when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.

The archives being auctioned, some of which contain dozens of artifacts each, show that support for the movement's leaders was not uniform across the African-American community. A black opposition flier chastised the civil rights leaders for riding "in big cars" while other boycotters walked.

"Often when we think about the civil rights movement, it seems like everyone was together," Palomino said. But "this was a group of regular folks taking their own lives into their hands."   Continued...

Martin Luther King's former secretary, Maude Ballou is shown in Ridgeland, Mississippi, September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Emily Le Coz