Buffett heir buys Rosa Parks archive

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


Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

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


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here