Buffett Heir Buys Complete Collection of Rosa Parks Memorabilia

A New York City auctioneer and broker is feeling tired but satisfied after a billionaire's purchase of a massive collection of belongings of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

For eight years, Arlan Ettinger, founder of the 39-year-old Guerney's auctioneers and brokers, was on a mission to find a home for the more than 100 cartons of writings, clothing and awards that belonged to Parks, who died in 2005.

He desperately wanted the items, which include her Presidential Medal of Freedom, her Congressional Gold Medal and everything from shoes to eyeglasses to notes, to land someplace where the public could learn from them and enjoy them. But a judge had ordered that the items now stored in 1,000 square feet of warehouse space in Manhattan could only be sold together.

When Howard Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett and himself head of a foundation, said on Aug. 28 that the Howard Buffett Foundation had purchased the collection, it meant Ettinger's mission had ended. Ettinger felt even more gratified with the Sept. 9 announcement that the foundation would loan the items to the Library of Congress for 10 years.

"The Buffett Foundation wasn't acquiring this to put into their vaults, this was an acquisition to do the right thing," Ettinger said. "They were in the end just middlemen who were doing the right thing and absolutely should be applauded from the heart."

A lawyer for Parks' heirs has said the price was $4.5 million.

"My goal was always to ensure this historic collection would be made available for the public's benefit so that as many people as possible can learn about Rosa Parks and the sacrifices she made to support the civil rights movement," Buffett said in a statement.

Ettinger said his quest included hours of traveling and talking on the telephone to find a buyer for the items from Parks' years in Montgomery, Ala., and in Detroit.

The Smithsonian's future National Museum of African American History and Culture, colleges, other institutions and individuals offered to buy pieces, but no one felt they had the funds to take the whole lot, now stored in 1,000 feet of warehouse space in Manhattan.

"There were times I could hear what sounded like tears on the other end of the phone when I spoke to the curator or director of some major university," said Ettinger, a former ad executive who founded Guernsey's in 1975 with his now wife, Barbara Mintz.

Ettinger said he could not understand why the search for a buyer went on so long, especially considering Parks' role in American history.

Continue reading at USA Today

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