Arrested for leading a march against racial segregation in 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent days in solitary confinement writing his “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. This letter was smuggled out and stirred the world by explaining why Black people couldn’t keep waiting for fair treatment. Meanwhile, items also were arriving at the jail for King.
A special delivery letter showed up at the jailhouse addressed to King, then a Western Union telegram, and then another and another. A jailer would log each new item in a bound ledger book, which King would then sign. Pages of the old jail log with King’s signature are now going up for auction, with a minimum price of $10,000.
Reportedly saved by an employee at the old jail, which was demolished in 1986, the pages offered by Hake’s Auctions are a previously unknown reminder of King’s time in Birmingham, which the civil rights leader once called “the most segregated city in America.”
The King signatures, a dozen in all in ink, are contained on four yellowed pages that have been removed from the original book. The pages also bear the signature of King friend and aide Ralph D. Abernathy, who was arrested during the same march as King on April 12, 1963, for violating a court order banning the demonstration.
The letter initially was distributed on mimeographed sheets before being reprinted in its entirety in pamphlets, magazines, King’s 1964 memoir and newspapers. It is now regarded as one of the greatest defenses of nonviolent protest ever written.
The old jail logs don’t indicate the contents of telegrams and letters King received while incarcerated, and only a historical marker stands now at the site of the building. Metal bars from the cell where King was held were preserved and are now on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Baggett, the city archivist, said the jail pages should wind up somewhere people can see them.
“I hope somebody buys this that will put it on display,” he said.