At Auction March 24 — Selections from the Collection of Jack Greenberg

Offerings from the Collection of Civil Rights Attorney Jack Greenberg in our March 24 sale of Printed & Manuscript African Americana

Our March 24 Printed and Manuscript African Americana auction features a section from the collection of Jack Greenberg, who spent 35 years with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He argued the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court in 1954 as co-counsel alongside Thurgood Marshall.  When Marshall was chosen as a Supreme Court justice, Greenberg succeeded him as the organization’s director-counsel from 1961 to 1984. He pioneered strategies to make the American legal system work for rather than against racial justice, and remains a seminal figure in civil rights law.  

Lot 181: Thurgood Marshall, photograph signed and inscribed to Greenberg, circa 1961. Estimate $5,000 to $7,500.

Featured in the auction are highlights from his storied career, ranging from his 1948 Columbia Law School diploma to the Presidential Citizens Medal certificate he received from President Clinton in 2001. His personal copy of the briefing book from Brown v. Board of Education bears his signature. Also included are items signed by some of the key civil rights figures who recognized his importance. A large photograph of Thurgood Marshall is signed “To Jack Greenberg, The finest successor any man ever had, Thurgood Marshall.” It hung in Greenberg’s office until his retirement, and was said to be “perhaps the only material object he valued for sentimental reasons.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lot 182: Martin Luther King, Why We Can’t Wait, first edition, signed and inscribed, New York, 1964. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000.

The collection includes a first edition of King’s Why We Can’t Wait, inscribed this copy “to my good friend Jack Greenberg, in appreciation for tremendous legal ability, your genuine humanitarian concern, and your unswerving devotion to the principles of freedom and justice, Martin.” The importance of Greenberg’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund to King’s Birmingham Campaign is recounted on pages 115-116 of the book. Greenberg and his team later helped King plan the route of his march from Selma to Montgomery. Books signed and inscribed by James Meredith and Alice Walker are also included.   

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Also on offer are two letters addressed to Greenberg’s mentor and predecessor Thurgood Marshall: one from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and a rather surreal 1955 letter from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, defending the bureau’s civil rights record in the wake of the Emmett Till murder.   

Lot 183: Set of three Civil Rights Law Institures training binders, circa 1964. Estimate $600 to $900.

Serious legal scholars may be yet more intrigued by a set of three binders from Greenberg’s Civil Rights Law Institutes circa 1964, which helped train lawyers across the country to bring civil rights cases successfully through the courts. We are aware of no other examples at auction.   

The collection is consigned by Greenberg’s adopted son William Cole, who featured many of these items in his book “A Jack Greenberg Lexicon” in 2017. 

Do you have a collection of African Americana we should take a look at?

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