In the 1950s the danger was so real that The Negro Travelers’ Green Book by Victor H Green was indispensable during a time when long-distance travel would be a cause for worry about finding lodging, fuel or even a toilet. Shockingly, it was used from the 1930s-60s.
On March 28 Swann Galleries of New York sold a 1958 copy of this fascinating but horrible reminder of those tense times for a premium-inclusive $27,500 (£38,800), which the auction house says is a record for any edition of the publication. It was offered during the Printed & Manuscript African Americana auction.
Another sad relic, sold at $10,400 (£14,700), was a c.late 1950s letterpress sign by the Tennessee Public Service Commission proclaiming Notice: This Part of the Car for Colored People.
A first edition of Martin Luther King’s Why We Can’t Wait, 1964, signed by the civil rights leader, made $8750 (£12,300). He started work on this, his third book, after the Birmingham Campaign and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. It covered African-American activism in the spring and summer of 1963.
In the spring 1963, activists in Birmingham, Alabama, launched one of the most influential campaigns of the civil rights movement.: Project C, or the Birmingham Campaign, featured lunch counter sit-ins, marches on City Hall and boycotts on merchants in protest at segregation.
The March on Washington was a huge protest in August that year, when around 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. It was when King made his ‘I have a dream’ speech.
King, an American Baptist minister and activist, became the foremost leader in the civil rights movement from 1954 until his assassination in 1968.
Nineteenth century works
Earlier works on offer at Swann included the sale’s top price: volume one, number one of The Mirror of Liberty, July 1838, the first black periodical published in the US, edited by David Ruggles. He was one of New York’s leading abolitionists.
The radical abolitionist publication took $37,500 (£52,900).
Additional material relating to slavery and abolition included a substantial archive of correspondence to John Augustine Washington III (1821-61), the great-grand nephew of George Washington and the last private owner of Mount Vernon.
Letters relate to Mount Vernon, other family estates, and often discuss the enslaved people on whom the family fortune was built. The archive brought $32,000 (£45,100).
John Augustine Washington III was killed in action during the American Civil War. When Virginia seceded from the Union, he entered the Confederate Army as aide de camp on the staff of General Robert E Lee with the rank of lieutenant general.