Buffett heir buys Rosa Parks archive

Her long-unseen archives bought by Warren Buffett heir’s foundation

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DETROIT — Hun­dreds of items that be­longed to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and have been sit­ting un­seen for years in a New York ware­house were sold to a foun­da­tion run by the son of bil­lion­aire in­vest­ment guru War­ren Buf­fett, the younger Mr. Buf­fett said Thurs­day.

Howard G. Buf­fett said in an in­ter­view that his foun­da­tion plans to give the items, which in­clude Ms. Parks’ Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, to an in­sti­tute or mu­seum that he hasn’t yet se­lected. Mr. Buf­fett said the items be­long to the Amer­i­can peo­ple. “I’m only try­ing to do one thing: pre­serve what’s there for the pub­lic’s ben­e­fit,” he said. “I thought about do­ing what Rosa Parks would want. I doubt that she would want to have her stuff sit­ting in a box with peo­ple fight­ing over them.”

A yearslong le­gal fight be­tween Ms. Parks’ heirs and her friends led to the mem­o­ra­bilia be­ing re­moved from her Detroit home and of­fered up to the high­est bid­der.

Ms. Parks, who died in 2005 at age 92, was one of the most be­loved women in U.S. his­tory. She be­came an en­dur­ing sym­bol of the civil rights move­ment when she re­fused to cede her seat on a Mont­gom­ery, Ala., bus to a white man. That trig­gered a year­long bus boy­cott that helped to dis­man­tle of­fi­cially sanc­tioned seg­re­ga­tion and helped lift the Rev. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. to na­tional prom­i­nence.

Be­cause of the fight over Ms. Parks’ will, his­to­ri­ans, stu­dents of the move­ment and the gen­eral pub­lic have had no ac­cess to items such as her pho­to­graphs with pres­i­dents, her Con­gres­sio­nal Gold Medal, a pill­box hat that she may have worn on the Mont­gom­ery bus, a signed post­card from Mr. King, de­cades of doc­u­ments from civil rights meet­ings and her ru­mi­na­tions about life in the South as a black woman.

The im­pe­tus for the sale came ear­lier this year, when Mr. Buf­fett saw a tele­vised news re­port about how Guern­sey’s Auc­tion­eers has kept Ms. Parks’ valu­ables in a New York ware­house since 2006. “I could not imag­ine hav­ing her ar­ti­facts sit­ting in a box in a ware­house some­where,” Mr. Buf­fett said. “It’s just not right.”

So he di­rected the Howard G. Buf­fett Foun­da­tion to make an of­fer, which was ac­cepted. A pur­chase agree­ment was signed over the sum­mer, and the trans­ac­tion was of­fi­cially closed last week.

Mr. Buf­fett would not dis­close the amount he paid for the items, but Steven Co­hen, a law­yer for the seller, the Detroit-based Rosa & Ray­mond Parks In­sti­tute for Self Devel­op­ment, called it “quite gen­er­ous” and “con­sis­tent with [the items’] in­trin­sic and in­her­ent value.”

In ad­di­tion to med­als and let­ters, the lot in­cludes lamps and ar­ti­cles of cloth­ing. Guern­sey’s years ago put to­gether a com­plete in­ven­tory, which is 70 pages long and in­cludes more than 1,000 items. Many are in New York, but some re­main in Ms. Parks’ home city of Detroit.

Guern­sey’s Pres­i­dent Ar­lan Et­tinger, who had val­ued the col­lec­tion at $10 mil­lion, would not say what it was sold for, but said the judge over­see­ing the Parks es­tate was sat­is­fied with the deal. “This ma­terial, which needed to be out there to be both ed­u­ca­tional and in­spi­ra­tional to peo­ple to­day and their chil­dren’s chil­dren, was sit­ting in our ware­house. That was wrong,” Mr. Et­tinger said.

Mr. Buf­fett, a phi­lan­thro­pist who fo­cuses much of his giv­ing on help­ing fel­low farm­ers in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, ac­knowl­edged that he prob­a­bly was not the most likely can­di­date to buy Ms. Parks’ mem­o­ra­bilia. “My wife said, ‘You don’t do that sort of stuff.’ I said, ‘I know, but it’s im­por­tant,’ ” he said.

michigan - Detroit - United States - North America - New York - Martin Luther King Jr. - Alabama - Warren Buffett - Steven Cohen - Montgomery - Rosa Parks


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