Sunday, January 20, 2008

On The Occasion of The 79th Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was ten years old when I heard of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. I lived in Atlanta, and EVERYONE heard about his death - it seemed it was almost as big a news story as the death of a President, and in retrospect it was indeed a big story. I didn't recognize his name, though it seems I surely must have heard it a few times before, as I vaguely remembered news of racial unrest and protests up to that time (whether protests were over race problems or the Viet Nam war, I knew there was something going on). But it was only in his death that I learned King was a black man, a preacher and a leader who was a social activist for racial equality. I didn't (yet) know of any black kids at my elementary school, but I had the distinct impression that this event could only increase racial tension, something that was already a Bad Thing. I got that impression again a year later on the first anniversary of his death.

I later heard more about him two years after his death, in eigth grade, as one teacher agreed with public calls for a national holiday to honor Dr. King's birth. In tenth grade I learned some African-American History and heard the story of his winning the Nobel Prize for Peace, and trying to raise the money for a plane trip overseas, not realizing the Prize included a check in the hundred-thousand to million-dollar range. Well, he surely had other things occupying his mind rather than keeping up with the funds given out with international prizes.

About two years ago I found and purchased this book by King, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" (it's the very copy shown - see the "Customer Image From:" on this page under the cover image) in a shop selling used items:
I knew discarded public library copies "aren't worth as much" as "clean" unmarked First Editions, but expected this could sell for at least the $5 or $10 minimum price I use to make it worth my tine to sell a book online. And at "worst case" I could actually read it. Here's the description I wrote for my Amazon listing:

Harper&Row, Stated "FIRST EDITION", Ex-Library, Good, tape stains on endpapers, card pocket on FFEP with card showing 20 checkouts 1968-1970, Florida public library name stamped on endpapers, title page and top and bottom of textblock, pencil writing of lib number on copyright page, pencil writing of date "2/20/68PF" on dedication page (apparently date added to lib collection), binding loosening between pretitle and title pages, DJ VG, well protected by usual Mylar cover taped to boards, only noticable wear is at spine and flap corners, lib number on white tab on spine.

As with any book I put up for sale, I looked for comparable copies online at various venues and saw an ex-library First for $50, a "clean" First for $150, and figured I could get a decent amount for this copy, especially with its "provenance" of the library adding it to their collection less than two months before his death and the library card showing its two years worth of circulation. I priced it at $75.

A few weeks later it sold (that seems a little too quickly for such a high-priced book, perhaps I should have priced it higher), and of course before mailing it I started to "page through" it. King wrote of the passage of the Civil Rights Act a year or two earlier, certainly a great advance, but that there seemed to have been little or no progress since, and he was wondering, perhaps worried, about the future of the movement. It was easy and fascinating reading. This was no doubt due to King's clear writing style, but also becuase of the compelling story, the very words being from the leader of the US Civil Rights Movement, this being some of his last year's worth of (to use a modern expression) "blog entries" before his death, and it was history being made in my lifetime. I ended up reading about half the book over several hours before packing it up and mailing it off to its new owner.