The annual auction of printed and manuscript African Americana reminds of a time when there was no value placed on Black lives save for the documentation in accounting books and ledgers.
Each year brings a new story, a new value to notes, the printed word by or about Black people
in America. And each year the value increases.
Today at Swann Galleries , “an early draft of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “ April 16, 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” leads the sale of African Americana.
The sale is also offering other items related to Dr. King, and covers a wide spectrum of printed items related to gamechangers and key figures of movements and incidents of historical, cultural or social importance at the time to the Black community, but may have met with eschewal by “outsiders.”
Along with items from Frederick Douglass’ abolitionist era, King’s Civil Rights Movement time, and breakthroughs in arts and culture from the period embracing the Harlem Renaissance to Kwame Brathwaite and Elombe Brath’s 1960’s unifying Black is Beautiful themes are up for auction.
Representing the latter are images of the Grandassa Models, published in the Naturally ‘63 Portfolio, an 11 x 8 1/2 program printed by Black Standard Publishing Company. It is up for $500 to $750.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pastor’s salary was $8,000 per year. Black businessman A.G. Gaston paid the $5,000 bail for Dr. King’s release from the Birmingham Jail where the pastor was confined for 11 days.
The draft of Dr. King’s letter ranges from $15,000 to $25,000. Additional material related to Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement include a reel-to-reel tape recording of Dr. King speaking to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at a planning meeting for the Poor People’s Campaign in January 1968 ($10,000-15,000); a pennant from the 1963 March on Washington ($2,500-3,500); an archive of NAACP correspondence from James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and more spanning 1923 to 1944 ($1,500-2,500); and a group of 17 press photographs of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School from September to October of 1957 ($1,500-2,500).
Frederick Douglass items include a rare 1878 carte de visite portrait of the abolitionist by Samuel M. Fassett ($15,000-25,000); an early issue of Douglass’s newspaper The North Star, 1848 ($7,000-10,000); and an 1882 autographed letter signed to Martin I. Townsend concerning his rival Richard Greener ($5,000-7,500).
Also of note a series of manuscript lectures by an abolitionist firebrand before, during and after the war ($3,000-4,000); a first edition of Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude, 1850 ($1,500-2,000); and an 1868 elaborately engraved commemorative printing of the Thirteenth Amendment ($3,000-4,000).
Objects and ephemera relating to music and entertainment feature throughout the sale. A first printing of A Night-Club Map of Harlem featured in the inaugural issue of Manhattan: A Weekly for Wakeful New Yorkers, 1933 is on offer ($15,000-25,000).
Dance and theater include a diary, photograph and correspondence of modern dance legend Katherine Dunham from 1935 to 2002 ($8,000-12,000); a group of circa-1957 photographs of the short-lived but influential New York Negro Ballet Company ($700-1,000); and a 1943 Playbill for an early performance of Othello signed by its star Paul Robeson ($1,200-1,800).
Flyers for music festivals and concerts feature the original maquette for the 1982 Cultural Freebee Jam flyer held at the Bronx River Center to celebrate Black History Month ($7,000-10,000); and a poster for opening night of Run DMC’s 1986 Raising Hell tour ($2,500-3,500).
Black Panther material features a 1968 poster advertising a Free Huey Rally at Oakland Auditorium ($3,000-4,000); a group of 30 different Black Panther and Black Power pinbacks ($1,200-1,800); and Our Folk Tales: High John the Conqueror and Other Afro-American Tales, published by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and compiled by Julius Lester circa 1967 ($1,000-1,500).
Additional noteworthy lots include a first edition of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, London, 1773, by Phillis Wheatley ($8,000-12,000); a complete run of four issues of Black Opals, 1927–28, the legendary limited-edition journal published in Philadelphia and closely tied to the Harlem Renaissance ($5,000-7,500); and papers of Margaret P. Simmons of the Women’s Army Corps dated from 1939 to 1993 ($800-1,200).
One item of particular interest captures a bit of formerly little-known Black Brooklyn and Women’s histories: The Lincoln Settlement Pamphlet.
According to information provided by the Swann Gallery , “The Lincoln Settlement was established in 1908 to provide services to poor families in Brooklyn, including a day nursery and kindergarten to support working mothers, plus a variety of classes and clubs for older children.
“Their building was at 105 Fleet Place between downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene Park. Its founders were Verina Morton-Jones, a Black physician who left her practice in 1914 to provide daily leadership to the Settlement (as discussed here), and Mary White Ovington, a white crusader for racial justice, listed here as the Settlement’s president.
“Both women were also among the key founders of the NAACP. The Settlement was later absorbed into the New York Urban League. This is the earliest publication of the Lincoln Settlement listed.”
The one staple-bound, 5 3/4 x 3 1/4 inch copy is the only one that has been traced. And today’s offering, starting at $300-$400, is it.”
The results of the auctions will be reported next week.