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Texas-Based Company Auctioning Martin Luther King Jr. Items

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NEW YORK (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Some civil rights movement history was going up for auction Thursday in New York City.

Papers from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were being sold by Maude Ballou, 88, who worked as King’s secretary from 1955 to 1960, through the New York office of Dallas-based Heritage Auctions.

Some of the more than 100 items are so unusual that it’s difficult to put a value on them, said Sandra Palomino, director of historical manuscripts for Heritage Auctions.

“We’re really relying on letting the market decide what the value is going to be,” Palomino said.

The materials include a handwritten letter King sent to Ballou while touring India in 1959 to learn more about Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign of nonviolent resistance.

One item originally marked for sale was pulled from the auction just before it started. The page was believed to have been from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, but Palomino said there was some question of whether it was actually part of another speech, so it was pulled. The page was sent to Ballou on Jan. 31, 1968, weeks before King was assassinated, by Lillie Hunter, bookkeeper for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

King’s estate sued the secretary’s son, Howard Ballou, in federal court in Jackson, Miss., in 2011 in a bid to take possession of the items. U.S. District Judge Tom Lee dismissed the lawsuit in March, saying there was nothing to contradict Maude Ballou’s testimony that King gave her the material and that the statute of limitations had passed. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the decision based on the statute of limitations.

King’s estate, operated as a private company by his children, is known to fight for control of the King brand. Harry Belafonte sued the estate this week in Manhattan federal court over the fate of three documents he tried to sell at auction.

Ballou, of Ridgeland, Miss., told The Associated Press last month that selling her collection was bittersweet. She said a portion of the proceeds would be used to establish an education fund at Alabama State University.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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