A collection of Rosa Parks‘ belongings, potentially worth several million dollars, is still sitting unsold in a New York warehouse as her heirs continue to feud over the civil rights memorabilia.
Civil rights era memorabilia is worth millions right now as America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the era. However, Parks’ belongings are out of the public eye and out of reach of scholars and historians.
While Parks’ will seemed to make it clear that the civil rights icon wanted her belongings to be given to the institute that bears her name, her nieces and nephews challenged the will and now the court has seized the belongings.
The collection includes school books, family Bibles, clothing and papers relating to her work for the Montgomery branch of the NAACP.
A judge ordered that all the items be sold in one lump sale to the highest bidder.
The problem is that no bidder has emerged willing to cough up the $8 million to $10 million asking price for the memorabilia.
Other sales of civil rights era memorabilia have netted more than three times the price set for Parks’ belongings.
The city of Atlanta handed over $32 million to the children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his papers.
The Henry Ford Museum paid nearly $500,000 for the bus on which Parks’ refused to give up her seat for a white passenger in 1955.
According to Elaine Steele, a longtime friend of Parks who heads the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, it’s clear what needs to be done with Parks’ belongings, but the probate court is standing in the way.
“In my opinion, it was quite clear what she wanted,” Steele said.
Steele’s attorney, Steven Cohen, said the key is to “close out the estate and get away from the probate court.”
“It will happen,” Cohen added. “But right now we’re hamstrung, because the probate court continues to want to monitor and control our activities and it shouldn’t.”
Museums and educational institutions have already shown interest in the belongings, but no one has placed a bid yet.
Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Rex Ellis, admitted that it would be an honor to have Parks’ archives in the museum, but he never offered to place a bid.
The museum is scheduled to open next year, which will coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott.
“She was just an extraordinary figure that any student of American history, not African-American history, any student of American history should know and be aware of,” Ellis said.
Both Steele and Ellis hope that the belongings will find their way to a public space soon where scholars, historians and the general public can enjoy them and celebrate Parks’ legacy.