SPANNING CIVIL RIGHTS, SLAVERY, MUSIC AND FILM, historic treasures and one-of-a-kind documents related to key figures of African American history and culture were auctioned at Guernsey’s in New York on July 25 and 26. The headliner was a true rarity—the family home of Rosa Parks, which once stood in Detroit, where it had been neglected and fallen into disrepair, before being restored and exhibited in Berlin, Germany, and Providence, R.I. Estimated to sell for $1 million-$3 million, the home went unsold.
Unpublished chapters and fragments from the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley that provide insights into editing choices made to shape the book’s final narrative, were also among the prominent lots. The manuscript pages attracted the interest of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The Schomburg bought a 25-page carbon copy of a chapter titled “The Negro,” for $7,000. Select sentences from the chapter include:
“The Western world is sick. This American society—with the song of Christianity providing the white man with the illusion that what he has done to the black man is ‘right’—is as sick as Babylon. And the black man here in this wilderness, the so-called ‘Negro,’ is the sickest of them all.
“The black man here is the world’s only race of people that tries to get social, and civic, and economic equality by begging for it.
“The so-called ‘Negro’ here is a perfect parasite image—the black tick under the delusion that he is progressing because he is riding on the back of the fat, three-stomached cow that is white America.”
After the sale, the research library negotiated the purchase of the rest of the largely unseen material from the autobiography, more than a dozen lots that were passed over, for an undisclosed sum.
“‘The Autobiography’ is one of the most important books of the 20th century,” Kevin Young, the director of the Schomburg, told the New York Times after the auction. “To have the version with Malcolm X’s corrections, and to be able to see his thoughts taking shape, is incredibly powerful.”
“‘The Autobiography’ is one of the most important books of the 20th century. To have the version with Malcolm X’s corrections, and to be able to see his thoughts taking shape, is incredibly powerful.”
— Kevin Young, Director of the Schomburg Center
Lot 1090O: Autobiography of Malcolm X Unpublished Chapter, “The Negro,” circa 1963-65 (25 pages, 11 x 8.5 inches). Provenance: Estate of Alex Haley; Sold by Kimball M. Sterling, Inc, October 1992; Gregory Reed Collection. | Estimate $10,000-$20,000. Sold for $7,000, plus fees (This lot was purchased by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.)
Lot 1090P: “Malcolm X Manuscript, notes by Malcolm X and Alex Haley,” n.d. (typewritten manuscript on onionskin), features handwritten notes, edits, and additions by both Malcolm X and Alex Haley, made in red and green ink respectively. Provenance: Estate of Alex Haley (sold October 1992 at Haley Estate sale for an amount in excess of $100,000); Sold by Kimball M. Sterling, Inc, October 1992; Gregory Reed Collection. | Estimate $100,000-$200,000. UNSOLD (After the sale, the Schomburg Center negotiated the purchase of this lot and more than a dozen others featuring fragments and unpublished material from the autobiography, for an undisclosed sum.)
THE MAJORITY OF THE ITEMS presented for sale at Guernsey’s came from three sources—the estate of Gregory Reed, Michael Mitchell, and Larry Richards.
Reed, is an African American lawyer who represented Parks and a number of musical talents associated with Motown Records. For years, Reed has been involved in litigation regarding the mishandling of Parks’s estate, previous arrangements to auction some of her prized possessions, and the whereabouts of artifacts belonging to his other well-known clients.
Richards assembled the highly regarded Cinema Apart Collection, which features black film memorabilia from throughout the 20th century. Mitchell is the son of U.S. Senator Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. (1911-1984), who represented Baltimore.
The auctions featured 716 items, including some art-related objects, recording contracts, original scoresheets, ephemera, awards and invitations, clothing and personal effects, dolls, rare books, and film posters featuring the likes of Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Sammy Davis Jr., Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge, and Sidney Poitier.
Art Tatum’s piano, a 1966 Martin Luther King Jr. letter in which he opposes the Vietnam War, an 1895 newspaper clipping of Frederick Douglass’s obituary, and the Jackson Five’s first recording contract, a document signed between Joe Jackson and Steeltown Records on Nov. 21, 1967, were among the items offered. Estimated to bring $100,000-$300,000, the Jackson Five lot was passed.
A number of documents that belonged to Parks were also for sale, including letters, event memorabilia, her estate planning portfolio, and a variety of photographs, as well as bricks from her family house.
Throughout the two-day sale, many lots were passed. The sale through rate on July 25 was approximately 57 percent. On July 26, it was only about 49 percent. A great number of the lots that did sell, went for prices far below their estimates. For example, Josephine Baker’s fur coat was expected to sell for $8,000-$12,000 and brought just $200, plus fees; King’s Vietnam letter was estimated at $15,000-$25,000 and sold for only $6,500, plus fees.
THE DETROIT HOUSE where Rosa Parks sought refuge after fleeing Alabama amid death threats, was owned by her brother and only sibling, Sylvester McCauley. His daughter, Rhea McCauley, says she and her 12 brothers and sisters recall eating Sunday dinners in the home with their “Aunt Rosa.”
Years later, the McCauley family lost the house to foreclosure. It was threatened with demolition when Rhea eventually bought it back a few years ago for $500. She entrusted the home to artist Ryan Mendoza, who paid to have the home shipped to Berlin, where it was re-assembled and partially restored. Envisioning the project through the lens of art, preservation, and memory, Mendoza exhibited the house in his backyard and welcomed visitors to view it.
Artist Ryan Mendoza envisioned the Rosa Parks House Project through the lens of art, preservation, and memory.
Lot 0524: “2 Bricks from the Chimney of the Rosa Parks Family Home,” n.d. (chimney bricks), from the Detroit home owned by the brother of Rosa Parks, Sylvester McCauley, on South Deacon Street. His daughter Rhea McCauley says her “Auntie Rosa” lived there temporarily when she moved up to the city from the South in 1957. | Estimate $1,800-$3,000. Sold for $700, plus fees (10 brick lots, offering one to 24 bricks each, were included in the sale. This lot is the only one that sold. The others were passed and went unsold.)
The home was recently returned to the United States. Brown University in Providence, R.I., cancelled its plans to display the structure over concerns about its authenticity, citing doubts about the veracity of the narrative connecting Parks to the house. “The truth is, she didn’t stay there,” Steven Cohen, an attorney for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, told the Post.
As a result, the Rosa Parks House Project was welcomed by the city’s WaterFire Arts Center, with support from the Nash Family Foundation, Rhode Island School of Design, and Providence branch of the NAACP, among other organizations. In its description of the installation, the art center said the house “speaks to issues of the centrality of family connection in the African American experience, of the Great Migration, of segregation, of red lining, of faulty mortgages and the housing crisis, of misogyny, as well as of the marginalization of black oral history.” The project was on view at WaterFire through June 3.
According to Guernsey’s lot description, the house has been the focus of other projects and potential projects. Patti LaBelle is interested in featuring the house in her video for the song “Dear Rosa.” The Parks family home is the subject of the documentary “The White House” (2017) and another documentary with A&E may be in the works.
Consigning the house for auction was an attempt to find it a permanent home, ideally a museum. Mendoza told Rhode Island Public Radio part of the proceeds from the sale would go to McCauley to help fund a foundation she has established to preserve Parks’s legacy.
I reached out to Guernsey’s to inquire whether they had received any interest in the Rose Parks house following the auction. I was referred to R. Couri Hay, their public relations firm, where I spoke to Sydney Masters. She told Culture Type that her understanding is that there are at least two parties potentially interested in the house, but no transactions had been confirmed. CT
TOP IMAGE: Lot 0584:https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/63471866_the-rosa-parks-family-home Rosa Parks Family Home. The lot includes a 12-page instructional book on how to re-assemble the house, which was originally located on South Deacon Street in Detroit. | Estimate $1 million-$3 million. UNSOLD
Over the years, many editions of the “Autobiography of Malcolm X,” have been issued. The engrossing story of the black leader’s transformative life was written with Alex Haley. “Reflections by Rosa Parks: The Quiet Strength and Faith of a Woman Who Changed a Nation” was published earlier this year. Many other books have been written about Parks’s quiet contributions to history, including a few children’s books.
July 26, 2018
Lot 0504: “Art Tatum Pocket Handkerchiefs,” n.d. (Three pocket “squares,” each of different design. Two feature the letter “A,” one the letter “T.”). Provenance: Estate of Art Tatum (1909-1956), the jazz pianist. | Estimate $150-$300. Sold for $900, plus fees
Lot 0523: CHARLES RAMSEY, “American Youth for ‘Democracy,’” 1946-47 (oil on board, 23.5 x 22 inches). | Estimate $500-$800. Sold for $400, plus fees
Lot 0526: “Rosa Parks Funeral Banner,” (bed sheet, approximately 4 x 6 feet). The banner was made by artist Helen Longino and reads “”Small Woman Giant Step / Mother Rosa Parks / 1913-2005.” She brought it to Parks’s Nov. 5, 2005, funeral at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit and it was signed by hundreds of the people who attended. | Estimate $15,000-$20,000. UNSOLD
Lot 0535: “Medgar Evers Memorial Service Program,” (Four pages, 11 x 17 inches). Published by the NAACP for service held at Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday, June 13, 1965. | Estimate: $800-$1,200. Sold for $300, plus fees
Lot 0557: Frederick Douglass Engraving, titled “Eminent Colored Men,” 1884 (framed, 21.25 x 17.25 inches). Provenance: Collection of Michael Mitchell. | Estimate $300-$500. Sold for $100, plus fees
Lot 0561: Richmond Barthé Autographed Card (9.5 x 7 inches), features image of a sculpture by the artist and is signed “Greetings from Richmond Barthé – 1937.” Provenance: Collection of Michael Mitchell. | Estimate $500-$700. UNSOLD
Lot 1001: “The Street Where You Live Comic,” circa early 1960s (13 pages, 10 x 7 inches). Published by the NAACP, the comic was drawn by Tom Feelings, an award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. Provenance: Gregory Reed Collection. | Estimate $50-$75. Sold for $225, plus fees
Lot 1026: Temptations Tour Schedule and Itinerary (four pages). Provenance: Collection of Gregory Reed. | Estimate $500-$800. Sold for $850, plus fees
July 25, 2018
Lot 0016B: Island in the Sun Lobby Card, 1957 (11 x 14 inches). Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $150-$250. Sold for $50, plus fees.
Lot 0046: Josephine Baker Fur Coat (Short fur coat, dyed in a rich dark red color. Interior is lined in pale pink satin, with delicate brocade design of ice skating women in pale blue. The tag has been removed.) Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $3,000-$4,000. Sold for $200, plus fees
Lot 0099: Certificate for 100 Shares of Lena Horne Beauty Inc., dated 1961 (document indicates 100 shares in Horne’s beauty company, 7.5 x 11.5 inches). Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $300-$500. Sold for $100, plus fees
Lot 0122: “Keep Us Flying! Buy War Bonds” Poster, circa 1943 (linen backed, 30 x 22 inches), U.S. Government issued. Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $1,000-$1,500. Sold for $1,900, plus fees
Lot 0126: Three “E.M. Washington” The Cotton Club prints (woodcut prints in excellent condition with only a minor tear, 18 x 12 inches each). Signed in pencil in left hand corner, “E.M. Washington 1929 – 1930.” Lot description debunks authenticity of artist and date prints were created, conceding that the prints were created by E.M. Washington’s (great) grandson, circa late 1990s. Read More here and here. Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate: $1,500-$2,500. Sold for $175, plus fees
Lot 0182: “Le Cento Immagini Di Andy Warhol,” 1989, (“printed on sturdy paper, 38.5 x 27 inches), Title of Italian Pop Art poster translates to “The 100 Images of Andy Warhol: Graphic Works.” Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $1,500-$2,500. Sold for $600, plus fees
Lot 0231: Box of 12 My Lovely Topsee Dolls, circa 1950s (soft plastic, dolls are 5 inches tall, packaging is 7 1/25″). Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $400-$800. Sold for $225, plus fees
Lot 0239: Paul Robeson Theater Ephemera, Including Signature (Five items: One original 1925 silver gelatin print 9 1/2 x 12of the Ambassador Theater where Robeson opened in the Emperor Jones, photograph (9.5 x 12 inches) taken by Professor L. Moorkens; One Robeson promotional photo for British Lion production of The Song of Freedom; Two booklets for Othello productions featuring Robeson; and One signature in “acceptable” condition on paper fragment.) Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $500-$800. Sold for $200, plus fees
Lot 0264: Sidney Poitier Paycheck for $2,984.75 (Check in “excellent condition,” 4 x 6.5 inches) Issued to Poitier from Samuel Goldwyn Productions. Check dated May 31, 1958. Believed to be the actor’s weekly salary check for the film “Porgy and Bess,” a Samuel Goldwyn film released in 1959. Includes certificate of authenticity. Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $800-$1,200. Sold for $300, plus fees
Lot 0302: “Smiling Hate” Movie Poster, circa 1924 (three sheets combined, linen backed poster in “very good” condition, 79.5 x 43 inches, framed). A Roy Calnek Production, featuring an all-colored cast, Produced by Superior Arts Motion Picture Company, the film stars Harry Henderson and Josephine Talley. Lot description states the film was an “all black Western… largely forgotten by history.” Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $8,000-$12,000. Sold for $3,000, plus fees
Lot 0315: Porgy and Bess Poster, 1959 (one sheet poster is in “excellent” condition, 41 x 27 inches). Film produced by Columbia Pictures. Poster reads “Introducing a new era in motion pictures!” It depicts three starring actors—Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sidney Poitier. Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $800-$1,200. Sold for $125, plus fees
Lot 0404: “The Game of Darkies in the Melon Patch” Board Game, The Hudson Brothers Publishing Co., copyright 1932. Full color game board with 130 spaces, four wooden playing pieces and one dice. Dimensions: Box (8.25 x 11.5 inches) and Board 11.25 x 16.25). Lot descriptions notes auction house is unable to determine if game offered is original to that date. Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate: $500-$700. Sold for $250, plus fees
Lot 0432: “Stormy Weather”Poster Movie Poster, 1949 (one sheet poster in “good” condition, aside from some ripping along the fold lines, 40 x 27 inches). Poster features cast credits at bottom right, including Bill Robinson, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway. Provenance: A Cinema Apart, the Beverly and Larry Richards Collection. | Estimate $3,000-$4,000. UNSOLD
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