Luther King Rocking Chair for Dallas Auction

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Lincoln Rocking Chair, a true relic of American history as well as a place of respite for the beloved Civil Rights Movement leader – will headline the 20th Century Icons Auction at Heritage Auction Galleries, Nov. 6-8.

The chair was bought by Hermine I. Popper for Dr. King to use while working on his writings in Popper’s White Plains, NY cabin.

“Occasionally an item will come to us that is not only an honor to present, but also just sends chills up your spine with its provenance, significance and inspirational association,” said Doug Norwine, Director of Music & Entertainment Auctions at Heritage. “We are offering the chair Dr. King enjoyed extensively, particularly while writing his seminal 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”

“This is our hope of a future,” Dr. King wrote in his speech, Where Do We Go From Here?, originally delivered in Atlanta, on Aug. 16, 1967, “and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow with a cosmic past tense, ‘We have overcome, we have overcome, deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.'”

The back-story of this superb artifact concerns the literary partnership of Dr. King and Hermine Popper, a critic, short story writer, and editor for Harper’s Magazine. Ms. Popper was hired in early 1958 to edit Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King’s account of the Montgomery bus boycott. Her editorial contribution to this book resulted in her ultimately becoming Dr. King’s editor, and Ms. Popper later expressed to Dr. King that her primary work with him was “to convert, as it were, an expert orator’s style into a writer’s style.”

Ms. Popper’s nephew, John E. Popper, writes in a 2006 letter that accompanies the chair:

“Hermine Popper edited Martin Luther King’s writings, includingWhy We Can’t Wait (1963-1964) and Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967). She and my Uncle Robert lived on Rosedale Ave., in White Plains, NY. Dr. King would come to their house to work on his books. There was a little cabin on the property that afforded them both some much-needed privacy… My first wife and I had a house in Massachusetts, and were involved in antiques. Hermine asked if we could buy a rocking chair, as Dr. King requested, for their work. We found the rocker and thought, ‘what could be more fitting than to buy a Lincoln Rocker?’ We bought it in late 1966, at an antique store around Greenfield, MA. Everyone involved loved the chair, and Dr. King spent many productive hours rocking in it as he worked on his manuscripts.”

In subsequent conversation with Mr. Popper, he revealed that when Dr. King and his aunt were working on the property the fact that Dr. King himself was there was kept in strictest confidence and while they were working it was ordered that absolutely no one – neither family nor friend – was allowed to come and disturb the work atmosphere in the cabin. No one in the town even knew what was going on in the humble cabin off the road in White Plains. This was due as much to the intense focus on the work as it was to its controversial nature and even more controversial writer. Such was Hermine Popper’s humility, and her dedication to her work that she also never brought up her working relationship to Dr. King. She clearly understood the historic nature of the material, and the sensitivity of the times.

“The relationship between Dr. King and Ms. Popper, of writer and editor, cannot be disputed,” said Norwine, “nor can the closeness of that respect and friendship.”

Dr. King wrote in Why We Can’t Wait, “I acknowledge with affection and gratitude the help of Hermine I. Popper, whose perception and intelligence enabled her to do a constructive and important editorial job.”

In Where Do We Go from Here, he wrote, “A special note of thanks is due Hermine I. Popper, whose editorial skills and warm spirit of cooperation contributed greatly toward the completion of this book.”

On April 4, 1968, the day following his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech in Memphis, Martin Luther King was assassinated at age 39. Hermine Popper died of cancer only seven months later, on November 18, 1968 at age 53 in White Plains, New York.

The cane-seat rocker is a piece of humble historical genius. To be in the same room with it, and to imagine Dr. King enjoying it – he, like President Kennedy, suffered from a bad back – while relaxing in the cabin hideaway is a profound experience. It was in this chair that he pondered the weighty ideas he presented in his late writings, discussing them with his dynamic editor, ultimately committing them to paper and posterity. It is, truly, a proud reminder of one of world history’s greatest humanitarians, a man who touched the consciousness of all people.

Heritage Auction Galleries is the world’s third largest auction house, and by far the largest auctioneer of rare collectibles, with annual sales more than $700 million, and 450,000+ registered online bidder members. For more information about Heritage’s auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit www.HA.com

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