A King's Treasure At Sotheby's
Halle-lu-yer! Praise Him!
The exhibition will continue until Thursday, June 29, so I'm going to go again and take a good look at some of the stuff that I missed or had to skim over. I was there for over two hours and it still wasn't enough time!
The stars of the show were the original draft of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream Speech," his "Letter From A Birmingham Jail," and his Nobel Peace Prize lecture and acceptance speeches for both the Oslo, Norway ceremony and the historic integrated dinner in Atlanta that followed. The Nobel speeches were drafted longhand on lined yellow paper and typed by his secretaries. Sometimes, he'd scribble a brief note to the secretary typing his work. For instance, in response to a letter from a black man wrongfully jailed after a protest in Florida he wrote, "Dora, do we have $350 to get this man out of jail?"
The room dedicated to Dr. King's personal library was incredible. Along with books on religion, civil rights and his own books in various languages, he had more than 50 books and pamphlets by and about Mahatma Gandhi. His collection also included a first edition of My Bondage and My Freedom, the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, and inscribed books from President Lyndon B. Johnson, William Stringfellow and several other notables. There was a signed copy of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun by her husband Bob Nemiroff who wrote that he was a "poor substitute" to sign the book, but that Lorraine would have been so pleased to know that Dr. King read and liked her work. Langston Hughes also signed a copy of his 1963 "song play," Jerico-Jim Crow-Jerico - in green ink.
I was also intrigued by Dr. King's letter to Adam Clayton Powell in Bimini telling him that it was a "must" that he return to the United States. In the letter, Dr. King detailed the plan he devised with several lawyers, including Bill Kunstler, to get Rev. Powell back to Harlem with a technical arrest - and minimal press. He also offered to accompany Powell from the airport to Harlem.
There were many other fascinating items:
An invitation to the inauguration for President John F. Kennedy - and an invitation from Robert Kennedy to attend the president's funeral. There was also a 114-page treatise sent to President Kennedy in May 1962 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "An Appeal to the Honorable John F. Kennedy, President of the United States. For National Rededication to the Principles of the Emancipation Proclamation and for an Executive Order Prohibiting Segregation in the United States of America."
Speaking of great men, in the early 1960s, Dr. King wrote a list on notepaper of his choices for the "10 Greatest Men of Century." He wrote the names of eleven men: W. Churchill, F. Roosevelt, J. Kennedy, E. Roosevelt, M. Gandhi, J. Salk, A. Einstein, A. Schweitzer, H. Truman, M. Luther King (his father) and Dag Hammarskjold.
I got a kick out a letter from the prestigious Lovett School in Atlanta rejecting Martin Luther King III's application as a "test" case. The fabulous Mrs. King responded with temperance - and fire: "The sole purpose in making application to the Lovett School for our son, Martin III, was a sincere attempt to secure for him the best possible education. This was not meant to be any sort of test case, though we desire for our son the experience of integrated schooling." She concluded by saying, "We are disappointed that the application has been rejected. It only proves again that the Christian church is often an active particpant in perpetuating segregation, serving only as a tail light instead of a head light."
I also enjoyed reading several invaluable Western Union telegrams. One was from Dr. King to "Mrs. Malcolm X," Dr. Betty Shabazz of course, giving his condolences on the death of Malcolm X. In another telegram, he congratulated Thurgood Marshall on his appointment to the Supreme Court, telling him, "You are eminently qualified and superbly equipped to serve as a Justice of the highest court of our land." Earlier, Dr. King had telegrammed President Kennedy urging him to consider Marshall for the appointment. In a 1957 telegram, he urged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to "take a forthright stand in the Little Rock situation" and in August 1965, he received a telegram from the special assistant to President Johnson, inviting him to the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
There were also index cards and Blue Books from his time at Morehouse and at graduate school. They even had two of Dr. King's suitcases with his shaving cream (Magic), cologne, razor and several magazines and sermon notes.
I'm going back on Wednesday or Thursday to get another good look. If you're in NYC this week, I encourage you to do the same. You will not be disappointed!