The corners may be slightly yellowed and tattered, but the blue handwritten ink on a rare, hand-corrected speech that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered Nov. 14, 1966, stand as bold as the message he delivered that day.
The four pages are now framed and on display at Raptis Rare Books on Worth Avenue this week to honor the civil rights leader’s birthday today.
Store owner Matthew Raptis knew when he saw the pages that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy them.
“There’s something important about being able to see and handle these historical documents,” Raptis said. “This is very rare in private collections.”
The pages were an outline for the speech King delivered to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s staff retreat in Frogmore, S.C., about 16 months before his assassination on April 4, 1968.
“No one surveying the moral landscapes of a nation,” one of the handwritten notes reads, “can overlook the hideous and pathetic wreckage of commitment twisted and turned to a thousand shapes under the stress of prejudice and irrationality.” Another scribble notes that the Black Power movement is “a slogan, not a program,” and that growing white backlash, “it is nothing new.”
Raptis doesn’t typically buy hand-corrected speeches, he said, but this one seemed appropriate for his shop, which is part bookstore and part historical collection. Surrounded by leather-bound books by Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin and first editions of such classics as The Great Gatsby and Oliver Twist, the four pages of King’s speech are combined with a photograph of him in a navy frame with gold trim and available for sale for $30,000.
“This whole store is dedicated to history,” Raptis said. “He gave up his life for the movement.”
People have been admiring the piece in the store, Raptis said, adding that recent visitor — a black woman who he estimated was in her late 60s — was filled with emotion when reading the speech.
“We started really delving into the words,” he said. Shortly after, she began to sob. As Raptis went to shake her hand as she left the store, she embraced him.
Said Raptis: “I don’t think I’ve been held that tight by my own parents.”
IF YOU GO
What: Hand-corrected speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
Where: Raptis Rare Books, 226 Worth Ave.
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Friday
For more information: 508-3479