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Rare Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. signatures found in Alabama jail logbook


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Last night, rare documents with 12 signatures of Martin Luther King Jr. sold for more than $130,000.

Rikki Klaus of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports from King's hometown of Atlanta on the uncovered items on view for the first time.

It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Rikki Klaus: The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those famous words behind bars in 1963.

Martin Luther King Jr.: I'm in Birmingham because injustice is here.

Rikki Klaus: King was arrested in Alabama that April for leading a march protesting racial segregation. At the jail, correspondents arrived for the civil rights hero. He signed for them in a log book. First, it was a letter. A couple days later:

Scott Mussell: Got a Western Union telegram. And then on this side of the page is where he had to put an X down, and then he would have to sign it.

Rikki Klaus: These historical documents containing a dozen of king's signatures are now in the hands of Scott Mussell, an Americana specialist at Hake's auctions in York, Pennsylvania.

Scott Mussell: Every time I sit and think about it for any amount of time, all the hair on my arms stands up straight up.


Rikki Klaus: WorthPoint CEO Will Seippel felt about the same. After his skepticism wore off, an anonymous woman asked him to research the potential value of her family's unique possession.

Will Seippel: It's like, oh, yes, right, and I found the Holy Grail.

Rikki Klaus: The men sought help from signature authenticators and another expert from Australia. Seippel flew in the woman's family to a Sandy Springs, Georgia, offices, just outside Atlanta. They handled the four pages with gloves.

Will Seippel: You're looking at a piece of history from one of the most remarkable civil rights events. I mean, you can put this up -- right up there with Rosa.

Rikki Klaus: The family said a Birmingham jail employee was ordered to throw out the documents, but kept them instead and gave them to a friend.

Selling them at auction was a hard decision. The minimum bid was $10,000. The document sold for more than 13 times that last night. The auctioneer said this page of history ultimately received the respect it deserves.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Rikki Klaus in Atlanta.

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