Auction Results

Tony Bennett’s MLK Selma letter doubles estimate 


a return envelope from Martin Luther King that contained his letter re Selma March to Tony Bennett
Image courtesy of Julien's Auctions.

A letter from the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr thanking jazz singer Tony Bennett for his support of the Selma March has been sold for $78,000. 

The letter, sold by Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles, was sold as part of the Tony Bennett: A Life Well Lived sale.

It was expected to realise between $20,000 and $30,000. 

The letter records a seminal moment in the fight for equal civil rights for Black people in the United States, the march from Selma to Montgomery in the state of Alabama.

The march, initially starting on March 7, aimed to register Black voters from Selma in the state capital, Montgomery, 54 miles away. 

That first day of the march is now recorded as Bloody Sunday, after police attacked the marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The incident is memorialised in the 2014 movie Selma.

Bennett, an Italian American from New York, was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement. 

This letter from Rev King was sent to him on April 12, 1965, 11 days after King led the march. 

Bennett then lived in Englewood, New Jersey. King wrote from Atlanta, Georgia. 

The lengthy PS adds personal interest to this letter from Martin Luther King, still one of America’s most revered political leaders.

King writes: “The march from Selma to Montgomery was 50 miles. It was a long walk, but it is a symbol that those who have suffered deprivation and brutality can make their voices heard and that freedom will one day be not a cry in the dark, but a living, breathing proclamation that we have overcome, and that a whole nation has turned to a new course.”

Later he writes: “Your talent and good will were not only heard by those thousands of ears, but were felt in those thousands of hearts, and I give my deepest thanks and appreciation to you.”

It was signed, with a PS: “It was really good seeing you / in Montgomery! S.C.L.C. could / not make it without friends like you / and neither could I. I hope / our paths will cross again soon.”

Bennett along with Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne provided entertainment to the marchers along the route. 

This was the most valuable item in the sale of items from Bennett’s personal collection. 

Also sold were two watches that realised $52,000, one of them an inscribed gift from Bennett’s friend Frank Sinatra. 

Items relating to Martin Luther King are highly collectible. King’s speeches are still quoted today, and his notes from the 1965 “We Shall Overcome” speech sold for $382,000 in 2017. King’s family sold the largest collection of his papers to the city of Atlanta for a reported $32 million in 2006.

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