Greetings Reader! Some time back I wrote about how a historic photo of Harriet Tubman was being auctioned by a major dealer. Happily, the photo, along with other items in the album, was jointly purchased by the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress, you can read about it here https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/smithsonian-library-of-congress-rare-1860s-photo-harriet-tubman-180962818/.
Can history be rescued again? This time, it is a humble document--a ledger showing signatures of people who received a piece of mail while incarcerated. Who's signature? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Where and when? The Birmingham Jail in 1963. Yes, the place where Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." You can read a draft of it and hear him read it here: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail
Fine Books magazine, which brought my attention to this sale, introduces it with the following statement "Black History Month, observed annually in February, recognizes the African-American struggle for freedom and key events that empowered the Civil Rights Movement. In honor of Black History Month and the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Hake’s will open its February 24-25 auction with a unique and highly important testament to the great civil rights leader’s courage and resolve. Never before seen publicly, the lot consists of four logbook pages from the Birmingham Jail, hand-signed 12 times by Dr. King during his 1963 incarceration." Really? Profiting from the record of incarceration of Dr. King is "in honor" of Black History Month. These words are posted here: https://www.finebooksmagazine.com/news/mlk-signed-birmingham-jail-logbook-offered-hakes-feb-24-25-auction
So let's look at the auctioneer's listing, which is here: https://hakes.com/Auction/ItemDetail/244390/LETTER-FROM-A-BIRMINGHAM-JAIL-MARTIN-LUTHER-KING-MULTI-SIGNED-BIRMINGHAM-JAILHOUSE-LOGBOOK-PAGES
The auction link doesn't make a claim about this sale being "in honor" of anything so I'm not sure where Fine Books got that idea, of if there is a printed catalog I haven't seen linked stating this. Auctioneer Hake's does provide the provenance of the ledger, stating "The oral history passed down through the consigning family states that these pages were salvaged by a jail employee who was instructed to destroy the ledger but had the foresight to preserve these pages, eventually passing them to the family's history buff patriarch where they have been held until now. This offering marks not only their first appearance in commerce but their first public display."
Foresight to preserve the pages...mmhmm. And proffer them up for sale in the year 2021, in the immediate months after the protests over the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor?
So Internet, let's do this. These papers documenting how Dr. King was able to stay in touch and communicate with the Civil Rights movement must be preserved at a location that can make digital copies part of the available worldwide curriculum and preserve the physical copies in the highest archival state.
Heading over to social media to start making some noise about this. Look for me @Bookcharmer on twitter and signal boost if you can.
The angry archivist Bookcharmer