Martin Luther King Jr. letter to Tony Bennett sells for $78,000

MLK thanks Bennett for his support during the Selma March

Cover Image for Martin Luther King Jr. letter to Tony Bennett sells for $78,000
Bennett's origins as an advocate for civil rights began during his time in the army (Credit: Julien's)

Julien's Auctions sold a Martin Luther King Jr. typed and signed letter addressed to Tony Bennett for $78,000 Friday afternoon, far exceeding the pre-auction estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.

The letter is dated April 5, 1965 — eleven days after King and thousands of activist members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference concluded their historic 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, the state capital.

In the letter, King expresses his gratitude to Bennett for speaking to the crowd of demonstrators in Montgomery:

"I speak for myself and for the courageous 300 marchers and all the other people who came to St. Jude's to be spurred on to those final miles to the capitol in Montgomery. Your talent and good will were not only heard by those thousands of ears, but were felt in those thousands of hearts, and I give my deepest thanks and appreciation to you."

King signed the letter "With warmest good wishes, Martin."

In the postscript, King tells Bennett that the S.C.L.C. could not "make it without friends like you ... and neither could I."

Bennett's origins as a civil rights advocate date back to 1945, when he was enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was radicalized by the military's segregationist policies, writing in his book, The Good Life, “It was actually more acceptable to fraternize with the German troops than it was to be friendly with a fellow Black American soldier!”

He later described the experience in his autobiography, saying “For a while the whole affair soured me on the human race.”

As his fame grew in the 1950's and 1960's, "[Bennett] came to witness the blatant racism that had been ingrained in the American entertainment industry," according to the New York Times.

King signed letters are among the most coveted items for collectors of historical memorabilia and manuscripts, with another King typed and signed letter discussing the importance of hope in the Civil Rights Movement selling for $29,283 in November 2023.

The auction consisted of over 750 items from Bennett's estate, including Cartier watches gifted to him from Frank Sinatra ($52,000) and Lady Gaga ($45,500), as well as a Sinatra family crest ring from Sicily ($63,500).

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct. You can follow him on X at @Will__Stern.