(CN) – A minister who lost his personally inscribed first edition of Rev. Martin Luther King’s book “Where Do We Go From Here?” 38 years ago claims in court that a father and son “Collectibles” shop is holding the book “ransom” for $42,000.
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The Rev. Ronald English sued Paul Damon Sr. and Jr. and Paul and Paul Collectibles, of Monroeville, Pa., in Allegheny County Court, Pittsburgh.
English, who lives in Charleston, W. Va., describes himself as “a retired reverend and protégé of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. … [who] has spent his life fighting for equal rights.” He says his father was a deacon in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where his parents sang in the choir led by Dr. King’s mother. “Rev. English grew up with Dr. King and his family, becoming close family friends,” the complaint states.
English says he earned his divinity degree at Morehouse College, and assisted King at Ebenezer Baptist during his senior year in college. “As a gesture of friendship, Dr. King handed down to Rev. English one of his suits for Rev. English’s first sermons,” the complaint states.
English says he attended the “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Mall on Aug. 28, 1963, “a speech Rev. English had been privileged to hear develop.”
In 1967, he says, King signed a first edition of his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and presented it to him, as a colleague and friend: “To my friend Ronald English for whom I wish a great and noble future, Martin Luther King, Jr.”
English says he attended the last sermon King ever gave at Ebenezer Baptist, on Feb. 4, 1968, and asked him afterward how he could become involved in the Poor People’s Campaign. King told him, “We will talk when I get back from Memphis.”
King was assassinated there on April 4, 1968.
English says he lost the book in 1973 while flying into Charleston, W. Va., for a sanitation workers strike. Apparently, it slipped under his seat and someone took it. He and a flight attendant searched for it, to no avail.
On May 30 this year, English says, he received a letter with no return address. It said that Paul – no last name – claimed to have the book, with the inscription from King, and that inside the book was a pamphlet from the New First Baptist Church, the first church where English was acting reverend.
In the letter, English says, “‘Paul’ offers Rev. English the change of first purchase before the book will be publicly auctioned on June 18, 2012. No identifying information about the sender was provided in the letter beyond a first name and an email address.”
English says he contacted Paul by email on June 7, and “explained how the book was stolen from him, his search for the book and a brief history of his connection with Dr. King.”
He says that Paul responded on June 16, two days before the “supposed public auction.”
“In his email, Paul told the Rev. English the auction was still scheduled and he had a second buyer lined up. According to Paul, the auction reserve price was set at $42,000 (including a 20 percent auction fee). There has been no further communication between Paul and Rev. English.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
English says he does not know whether Paul sold the book at auction.
He claims Paul never had proper title to the book, as it was stolen. He claims that the defendants “have tortiously attempted to convert the book from Rev. English by demanding $42,000 for its return. Although defendants apparently do not dispute that Rev. English is the original owner of the book, defendants nevertheless refuse to return it unless and until Rev. English pays a ransom of $42,000.”
English wants his book back, and damages for the time and money he spent “in p pursuit of the converted property.”
He is represented by Patricia Kipnis, with Bailey & Glasser, of Charleston, W. Va.