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Winning Bid:
$130,909.28 (Includes 18% Buyer's Premium)
Bidding Ended:
Wednesday, February 24, 2021 9:00:00 PM (20 Minute Clock Begins At Wednesday, February 24, 2021 9:00:00 PM)
Time Left:
Auction #231 Part I
Value Code:
- - Open Estimate Help Icon
Item Description
These are pages from the Birmingham Jail communication log used to confirm each time an incarcerated person received written communication. The entries date between 3/4/63 and 11/27/63 including the period between 4/12/63 to 4/20/63 when King wrote his manifesto on non-violent civil disobedience known as "Letter From A Birmingham Jail." 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.
Birmingham Campaign: King and local activist Rev. Fred Shuttleworth had chosen Birmingham to stage a challenge to the city's segregated downtown districts attempting to ensure fair hiring practices. King stated that the goal of the non-violent direct action campaign was "To Create A Situation So Crisis-Packed That It Will Inevitably Open The Door To Negotiation." In the days leading to his arrest King had been pulled in all directions, some at SCLC wished for him to travel the country to fill the depleted bail funds helping keep the pressure on Birmingham's notorious Sheriff Bull Connor who had promised to "Fill The Jail Full Of Any Persons Violating The Law As Long As I'm At City Hall." Others in the movement, still reeling from a perceived defeat in Albany, GA, felt King needed to lead a solidarity march and be arrested alongside the local volunteers. Complicating matters further was the birth of his daughter, Bernice, on March 28. Many in his circle had never seen King so conflicted and as SCLC and Birmingham civil rights leaders strategized, King retired to his room at the A. G. Gaston Motel and prayed. He emerged having decided to lead the solidarity march in defiance of the injunction. That evening April 11, King's second in command Ralph Abernathy spoke at the 6th Ave. Baptist Church to rally supporters and convince volunteers to be arrested stating "The Eyes Of The World Are On Birmingham Tonight. Are You Ready, Are You Ready To Make The Challenge? I Am Ready To Go To Jail, Are You?" The morning of Good Friday April 12 King and Abernathy along with close to 50 Birmingham residents were arrested in violation of the injunction barring demonstrations in the city. That morning the Birmingham News had published an article "A Call For Unity" written by eight Birmingham clergymen accusing King and SCLC of being outside agitators bent on chaos and arguing that King had not afforded the incoming Mayor a chance to rectify the situation of segregation. A sympathetic guard provided King a copy of the newspaper on which he began writing his response that would become "Letter From A Birmingham Jail". When he was finally allowed to receive SCLC lawyers, they provided him a pad to continue his work and helped shuttle the scraps to pastor Wyatt Tee Walker and his secretary Willie Pearl Mackey, who began to piece together his open letter response including some of his most memorable quotations including: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." At the time of its writing King's letter was not widely published. The New York Times Magazine requested an example for publication late in April of 1963 that was never published. An un-authorized version can be found in the May 19 New York Post Sunday Magazine but it's first printing under the title "Letter From A Birmingham Jail' came in an edition of "Liberation" magazine June 12, 1963 and again June 24, 1963 in "The Christian Century". King included the full text in his 1964 book "Why We Can't Wait". The now famed letter captures King at his best and is considered among the most important documents from the civil rights era having guided not only the movement in America but many around the world that have looked to King's words as a guide to defeating injustice and oppression through non-violent methods.

Description: 7x11.5". Two sheets, four pages front and back still partially hinged at center numbered 61 to 64. Each line represents a written communication received at the jail. At each occurrence, a jailer was required to confirm delivery of an incoming message filling out the date, the inmate's name and the type of correspondence on the left page w/the right page reserved for a signature confirmation. King has signed the ledger 12 times; seven times on page 61 and five times on page 63 and Ralph D. Abernathy has signed five times; three times on page 61 and twice on 63. Partial separation and minor loss along center hinge. Otherwise light handling and moderate age toning. Overall VF. Signatures are executed in blue ball point ink and remain bold. Because the signatures are on the odd number pages the document could theoretically be separated at center to display the signatures pages side by side. Comes with Hake's COA and JSA LOA.

This documentgive insight into King's incarceration, where he signed these pages as he sat conjuring words that continue to impact the world. They offer a unique glimpse of the flurry of communication occurring around King's historic incarceration. While page 60 is lost to history page 62 notes the delivery of a "SP Dil Letter" (special delivery letter) on 4/17; a "W U Telegram" and "Reg. Let." arrived on 4/19 and two more Western Union telegrams on 4/20, the day of his release. It is hard to overstate the importance of "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" and with so few surviving related artifacts (even early typed drafts and mimeographed circulations are rarely available) this document represents the penultimate piece for collectors and institutions seeking tangible material from these history-altering days. Valuing an artifact of this uniqueness is impossible- we are aware of an early typed draft of the letter realizing $40,000 and this was without any signature or notation in King's hand. In 2015 we were privileged to offer King's first book inscribed to Chief Justice Earl Warren setting a world auction record for a MLK autograph with the $49,335 sale. Since then interest in King has only risen and it is our opinion that these pages are every bit as important. Perhaps never more so on any lot that we have offered over the past 54 years do the superlative terms "Priceless" and "Museum Quality" truly apply. We trust its next caretaker will be as stirred by the aura of history it radiates just as much we are.
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