Lyndon B. Johnson condolence letter to MLK's widow going up for auction

Sometimes it pays to be a bit of a packrat. The man you are about to meet left his home and joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Now, 50 years later, he is sharing his story and giving others an opportunity to see and even buy a part of history.

It is an extraordinary photo. A man is stopping the steady stream of mourners to wipe the dust from the glass atop Martin Luther King Jr.'s casket.

"They were concerned that the body could be desecrated," said longtime D.C. area resident Stoney Cooks.

He is the man in the photo. With his voice shaking, he told us how King's brother asked him to stand guard at the civil rights leader's body.

"He was putting somebody in charge of his brother's body that he thought was trustworthy," said Cooks.

Cooks left college in Indiana and arrived down south just two days after bloody Sunday.

"Who in the hell after you see people getting beaten up on the bridge get in the car and heads there?" he said.

Cooks said it is like chasing trouble, but he has no regrets.

Even back then, Cooks held onto things others would simply throw away.

"That's my nature," he said. "I collect things."

Things written by Martin Luther King Jr.

"He made notes to himself all the time," said Cooks. "He didn't see a piece of paper that he wasn't going to write on."

Cooks' collection includes what may be the last biography King edited.

"Who else would have the strength of character to strike out an entire paragraph other than Dr. King," Cooks said showing to us.

Also in the collection are a funeral registration book and a condolence letter written by President Lyndon B. Johnson to King's widow, Coretta.

The letter was given to Cooks' wife by her brother -- entertainer Harry Belafonte.

"I put it into plastic sleeves and double sleeves because

I knew what it was," Cooks told us.

When Matt Quinn of Quinn's Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va., saw the materials, his reaction was simply: "Wow."

The Cooks are donating thousands of items to the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

They will sell the LBJ letter and a few others items.

Quinn values the letter between $120,000 and $180,000. The film and the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches make it a good time to sell.

"It's impeccable timing," said Quinn. "It can result in the perfect storm of auctions."

Cooks hopes the documents will eventually be displayed in public so that others can experience what he has.

"I just think I am one of the most privileged people you could ever imagine," he said.

The auction is scheduled for March 5.

For more information, go to www.quinnsauction.com/index.php/auctions

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