The Story of... Black History Month and the collectibles markets

Black History Month (BHM) is drawing to a close here in the UK - and will happen in the USA and Canada this February. The month comprises more than 6,000 events promoting black history, culture and heritage. 

BHM aims to "heighten the confidence and awareness of Black people to their cultural heritage." This has also extended to the collectors' markets in recent times with a number of sales demonstrating the growing values of black history memorabilia.

From art to rare stamps...

Examples include painter Kehinde Wiley, whose portraits of African American men blend "high culture" with hip hop culture, incorporating the influence of Old Masters. They have previously sold for five figures at auction.

Wiley's successes have included the 2007 painting Support the Army and Look After the People. The oil and canvas brought an impressive $85,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, in 2010.

Hip hop's influence isn't only felt in the art markets but also - believe it or not - in rare stamps. To mark Black History Month 2011, stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons hosted an exhibition of stamps from the African Diaspora as part of Black History Month UK.

Support the Army and Look After the People, 2007, by Kehinde Wiley

The exhibition was based on the stamp collection of award-winning African-Caribbean creative, Jon Daniel, whose collection was inspired by the lyrics of hip hop legends Public Enemy's song 'Fight The Power'.

"We hope the exhibition will encourage a new audience to look at stamps in a different light," said a spokesperson.

Olympic games controversy

Elsewhere, controversy is also remembered in the memorabilia markets, including an incident which resulted in the suspension of two athletes by the Olympic Committee in 1968.

Tommie Smith struck a fist-aloft Black Power salute while celebrating his Gold 200 metres medal on the winners' podium before the world's press. It was one of the most overtly political statements in the 110 year history of the modern Olympic Games.

Paul Fraser Collectibles sold Martin Luther King Jr's Stride Toward Freedom, earlier this year, and currently has this Rare Utility Club programme signed by the Civil Rights icon for sale


Last year, we reported that Smith was selling his Gold medal from the occasion and trainers for an estimated $0.25m, which raised eyebrows in some quarters. "Of course the medal is important to him, but the memory of winning the race is far more important," said auctioneer Gary Zimet.

"He is doing it for the money, but not because he is desperate. If someone is willing to pay his price [then he'll sell it]."

Smith's single black glove from his famous salute after the victory would also have been auctioned, we reported, but the star didn't know where it was.

The King of a civil rights movement

Of course, Tommie Smith isn't the only '60s black icon for whose memory collectors are willing to pay thousands. A particularly exciting piece of memorabilia, which we handled at Paul Fraser Collectibles, was the book Stride Toward Freedom by the Revered Martin Luther King Jr.

Published by Ballantine Books in 1961, the book bore King's signature in clear ballpoint pen. A classic true story, it details the story of the Montgomery bus boycott organised by King and discusses that Rosa Parkes wasn't the first woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus.

We sold the superb piece of African-American History for £6,000 ($9,900). We currently have a rare programme signed by Dr King, which you can see above.

Rosa Parkes, too, has made her mark on the markets, with $10m-worth of collectibles - including the hat she wore on the historic bus trip - selling at New York auction house Guernsey's in August of this year.

Black Power leader... and murderer

Finally, from heroes to villains. Like Michael de Freitas, aka Michael or Michael Abdul Malik, the Black Power leader in 1960s Britain. De Freitas made his living from the numerous brothels he ran in London while describing himself as "the most powerful black man in Europe."

Pending trial in Britain for extortion, Michael X's bail was paid for by none other than John Lennon. De Freitas immediately fled to Trinidad, set up an arms trafficking centre and then brutally murdered his cousin following a botched arms deal.

A fire at De Freitas commune, which he started, led police to discover two more bodies buried in the back garden.

Today, Michael X's grim life still hold's fascination for collectors and his signed autographs can sell for more than $1,000 - like this example which we have for sale at Paul Fraser Collectibles.

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