Guernsey's Auction Brings Together African American Historic & Cultural Treasures

New York, NY — What do The Jackson 5’s (and Michael Jackson’s) first recording contract, the Larry Richards “A Cinema Apart” Collection, Rosa Parks’ family home and her handwritten thoughts on the day she first met Dr. Martin Luther King, and Alex Haley’s manuscript for the Malcolm X biography (which includes many of Mr. X’s personal notes) have in common? They will be among the hundreds of extraordinary items being brought to the block by Guernsey’s, the New York City-based auction house, on July 25th and 26th at the historic General Scott Mansion on the corner of Park Avenue and 93rd Street, in New York City. Largely focusing on the Civil Rights Movement, African American movies, and music, this auction will include items that are of huge cultural and historical importance.

The Gregory Reed Collection is an archive of Civil Rights documents, rare books, and African-American musical ephemera, all from the offices of the prominent African-American lawyer who counted Rosa Parks among his clients. In an extraordinary two-page document, Mrs. Parks describes the occasion she first encountered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Astonished that so young a man could speak so eloquently, she writes “I knew I would never forget him.” It was only months later that this giant of a little woman refused to give up her bus seat. Jail and death threats soon followed, causing Mrs. Parks to flee northward to Detroit where, along with her husband and extensive family, she found shelter in a small, 23’ x 23’ two-story wood home. Now, six decades later, that very structure (which is easily disassembled, and the buyer should know that there will be ample support available to assist in the easy assembly of the house) has been the subject of an international tour extensively covered by the media. The BBC and CNN reported on the story as did the New York Times, which ran three separate articles about the historic home. Most recently exhibited as part of a symposium with the Rhode Island School of Design, this truly historic Rosa Parks family home is in the auction with much of the proceeds directly supporting the Rosa McCauley Parks Heritage Foundation.

In 1992, the estate sale of the then late author Alex Haley was conducted. Internationally renowned for his historic novel, Roots, the top lot in the auction proved to be Haley’s original 257-page manuscript for the Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley), with many handwritten notes and edits from both Malcolm X and the author. Separately sold in the event were the “lost chapters” - portions of the book thought too controversial to be published. Attorney Reed was the successful bidder back then; now, more than a quarter century later, these extraordinary documents will be offered again.

Comprised of hundreds of rare film posters, window and lobby cards, actor-worn clothing and more, the unique Cinema Apart Collection, assembled by the late Larry Richards, traces the course of African American cinema throughout the 20th century, and represents an important part of American and of cinematic history. In earlier times, films starring African American actors, or ‘all-black casts’ were made specifically for black audiences. These movies were not generally mainstream, and for a time their cultural significance not realized. Titles included Bronze Venus, Smiling Hate, Rhythm in a Riff, Congorilla, Two- Gun Man from Harlem, Voodoo Devil Drums, Midnight Menace, Porgy and Bess. Featuring names such as Paul Robeson, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge, and Sidney Poitier, A Cinema Apart’s significance was recognized when a portion of it was selected for inclusion in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum. 

In the 1960’s, emerging, wannabe record labels were almost too numerous to count. One of the upstarts, out of Gary, Indiana, was Steeltown Records, headed by William Adams. At a performance in a junior high school gym, Adams was riveted by five young men (boys, really). From this unheralded performance sprang The Jackson 5 and the then nine-year old Michael Jackson. On November 21, 1967, a contract between Steeltown and the Jackson Five was worked out and signed by Joe Jackson on behalf of his sons. Agreeing to “employ Steeltown, Inc.,” a career began that changed the world. Consigned directly by Mr. Adams, that remarkable contract is in this auction!

Long considered one of Jazz’ greatest piano players, Art Tatum died at age 47. Now, more than sixty years later, his estate has honored Guernsey’s by the inclusion in this event of many of Art’s most enduring treasures. Included among these is his stunning Steinway Grand piano, and a vintage Bulova wrist watch inscribed to the pianist and given to him by none other than Frank Sinatra.

The vast majority of the approximately 700 items in this auction are being offered without minimum reserve. The Gregory Reed Collection is being sold by court order. More information on this important event can be found at www.guernseys.com.  Online bidding will take place at liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com.

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