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MLK signatures go on the auction block


Admirers of Dr. Martin Luther King, junior have the opportunity to snag a unique piece of memorabilia. An auction house is offering pages of an old jail record signed by Dr. King while he was incarcerated in Alabama in 1963. It's there that King wrote his famous "letter from the Birmingham jail." A jail worker rescued the documents which feature a dozen King signatures. Alabama Public Radio’s exchange journalist, Ousmane Sagara of the west African nation of Mali, referenced the letter in his contribution to APR’s international award-winning documentary “The King of Alabama.” Sagara’s story focused on the impact King has on his home country.

“The civil rights leader had to sign for telegrams and letters while he was jailed in Birmingham,” wrote Sagara. “It was there that King penned his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." The letter mentioned Springhill College in Mobile for integrating in the 1950’s.”

APR listeners met Fannie Motley in 2013 during our coverage of the 50th anniversary of civil rights events, including Springhill's integration. Motley was the first African American to attend the college. She hesitated applying, but her husband insisted

“He said now that the integration law has passed and now that Spring Hill College has opened its doors, and we are right here, he said all you have to do to finish your last two years of college, just get in the car and ride out to Spring Hill every day," she said. 

Motley wasn’t your typical college student. She was 29, married, and had two young sons when she transferred to Spring Hill in 1955. That was just a few months after the Jesuit University decided to integrate. In 1956, Motley would become the first African American to graduate from Spring Hill. It was an event the press was eager to cover, but Motley was fearful of the attention.

“That was right during the time of the Ku Klux Klan, my husband was pastor of the church, we were living right behind the church and my boys were in school, little bitty things,” recalls Motley. “I didn’t want to put the church in jeopardy like maybe look up and somebody would have come and burned the church down in the middle of the night.”

Dr. King had to sign for telegrams and letters while he was jailed in Birmingham, and that's the source of the signatures now up for auction. The artifacts have a minimum bid of $10,000. APR once reported on a letter from civil rights icon Rosa Parks that went for an opening bid of $54,000. You can listen to APR’s program “The King of Alabama” by clicking below.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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