Published: March 1, 2021
YORK, PENN. – A jailhouse logbook documenting communications received by Martin Luther King Jr during his time at the Birmingham jail sold for $130,909 at Hake’s Auctions on February 24.
King penned his famed “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1963, following his arrest four days earlier. He was released on April 20. King was incited to write the open defense of nonviolent protest after reading an editorial in a local newspaper by eight white Alabama clergymen who asked Black men and women to not stand with King in his fight for civil rights.
In his defense against the assertion that demonstrations could be illegal, King wrote, “The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.'”
The lot consisted of two sheets and four pages of 7-by-11½-inch paper representing line items for each piece of written communication received at the jail. The auction house notes, “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 with 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.”
The auction house related that the oral history accompanying these pages provided that they were salvaged by a jail employee who was instructed to destroy the ledger but instead preserved it. That employee gave it to his family’s history buff patriarch who held it until now.
The pages had never before been seen publicly.
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