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New Set of MLK Papers Sparks Controversy

An Atlanta auction house, Gallery 63, is advertising a new collection of documents that it claims once belonged to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The small collection, including position papers, articles and a 1964 address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has stirred an emotional response in Atlanta. Just last year, the city spent $32 million to obtain thousands of King's personal papers.

Until recently, these documents were kept in a weathered green folder in the basement of an anonymous elderly woman in Maryland. It's still somewhat of a mystery how they got there. Apparently, they were given to her about 40 years ago by WERD, the first black-owned radio station in the country, as some sort of payment. WERD and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were located in the same building in Atlanta. King worked closely with the station, and it aired many of his early sermons.

There are questions about the authenticity of the papers, and about whether the Maryland woman even has the right to sell them. Isaac Newton Farris Jr., King's nephew and the president and CEO of the King Center, says they belong to the King estate. According to Farris, there is only one collection of papers, and the King estate owns the intellectual-property rights to them. Meanwhile, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin says the city is not planning to try to purchase the collection that recently surfaced. She'd like to see the papers donated and housed with the collection the city bought last year.


The owner of the auction house says ideally he'd like to see the papers go to a museum, but he says he really has no control over that. The collection is expected to bring up to $250,000. It's set to be auctioned April 15, but the King family says they'll do whatever it takes to stop the sale.

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