Maude Ballou was the personal secretary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1955 to 1960. During that time, she saved personal notes and papers from the civil rights leader, including a typed page from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which had been sent to her on Jan. 31, 1968, weeks before Dr. King’s assassination. On October 17th in New York, Ballou will hold an auction for the items through the Heritage Auctions. A portion of the proceeds will be used to establish an education fund at Alabama State University.
Maude Ballou came to work for Dr. King after graduating from Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. She was working for a local black radio station when Dr. King asked her to join him as his secretary. Her husband, Leonard Ballou, was a fraternity brother of Dr. King’s. When the couple later moved to North Carolina, Leonard Ballou stored the papers in the basement of his employer, Elizabeth City State University, until they were rediscovered in 2007.
More of the items at the auction include a handwritten letter to Ballou from Dr. King, sent from India in 1959. Dr. King was there to learn from Mahatma Gandhi and his nonviolent resistance methods.
Handling personal effects for Dr. King, the reverend shared intimate thoughts about his experiences in the struggle with Ballou. On one occasion, Dr. King explained to his assistant, ‘I dreamed last night I died and nobody came to my funeral.’ She reassured him that nothing was going to happen to him. It was nearly eighteen years later that he gave his final words and life to the struggle before being assassinated.
Among the over 100 items that will be up for sale is a handwritten letter to Ballou mentioning the name John Lee Tilley, who served as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King passed the message to Ballou to have Tilley speak with a white activist who gave Dr. King advice on nonviolent resistance.
Other items Ballou will auction are:
• A handwritten letter informing Dr. King’s congregation at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Alabama that he would be leaving, in order to be present at other centers of struggle in the South.
• A 1957 Alabama Department of Public Safety list of people and churches considered vulnerable to attacks. King is No. 1 on the list; Ballou is No. 21.
Maude Ballou’s possession of the King materials was under court dispute by his surviving children, who have fought for control of Dr. King’s papers for decades. In a decision issued by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Ballou was allowed to keep possession of the papers.
The October 17th auction of Dr. King’s materials will be in New York, through the Heritage Auctions company. For more information log on to historical.ha.com/.