SAN FRANCISCO - An auction house yesterday called off the sale of an extensive collection of speeches, journals, and notes attributed to the late civil rights leader Malcolm X.
Butterfields will not go ahead with the planned sale March 20 in San Francisco because it received a letter from an attorney for several of Malcolm X's six daughters and the estate of his wife, Betty Shabazz, that raised questions about the chain of ownership of the documents, said Butterfields spokesman Levi Morgan.
The attorney, Joseph Fleming, said the daughters are pleased the auction of the documents will not take place and that "they don't have to engage in a battle over their own property, at least right now."
Mr. Fleming declined to comment on the letter he sent Butterfields. He said earlier that the documents were sold at a Florida storage center and claimed they were the family's property.
"The method by which the material got to Florida in the first place, that's what's in question," Mr. Fleming said. "No one had a right to bring the material to Florida."
Butterfields has said it cannot reveal who the owner of the collection is, only that it is not a family member. Mr. Morgan said the possible problems with ownership occurred before the auction by the storage center.
"Our client has demonstrated to us clear title," he said. "The irregularities preceded the auction by the storage center."
Scholars said the collection could significantly add to existing Malcolm X documents. It contained photographs, handwritten speeches, a Qur'an owned by Malcolm X, and four journals he kept during travels to Africa and the Middle East in 1964, a year before he was assassinated.
The collection was displayed to potential bidders in Los Angeles last week. The surfacing of the documents was a surprise - and raised questions about their origin - but many scholars believe they are authentic.
A University of Toledo professor who campaigned to prevent the auction house from selling the artifacts said he is cautiously optimistic about the decision to call off the March 20 sale.
"So far, so good," said Dr. Abdul Alkalimat, professor of Africana Studies at the university and one of the leading researchers into the life of the civil rights activist. "We still have the issue of what's going to actually happen. We could still have a feeding frenzy for the information and that would create more confusion than clarity."
Dr. Alkalimat said the documents should be viewed with the same care of any other document with historical value. He said he hopes researchers and historians will get a chance to view much of the collection.
"These documents give us insight into a singular individual," Dr. Alkalimat said.
The collection was expected to bring as much as $500,000 at auction.
Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, said withdrawing the items from auction is "an excellent step in the right direction."
"It's in the best interests of everyone for the material to be returned to the hands of the family," Mr. Dodson said.