“I thought this just can’t be,” Allen said.
Allen has been collecting items linked to African American history for decades. He has the largest collection at the auction, with some 75 items up for sale.
Some of the most interesting items in his collection were gathered over decades as the antiques picker travelled the South. In addition to the King letter, he is selling a 1970 “I am a Man” placard worn by striking Atlanta sanitation workers, a circa 1895 portrait of Frederick Douglass that once adorned a wall of a black school house in Ben Hill County, Georgia and a collection from the infamous Scottsboro Boys civil rights case in the 1930s.
Allen ran into financial trouble in recent years and says he is selling items from his collection because he needs money.
His lynching photographs made national news when he published them in a book in 2000 and exhibited them in various galleries and locations across the country. In 2005, the U.S. Senate issued an apology for failing to enact federal anti-lynching legislation and sponsors of the resolution credited Allen's work as raising awareness about this legacy of racial violence.