By Toni Stauffer
In February, Commissioner Peggy Martin introduced resident Yolanda Arnold who presented an opportunity for the county to acquire an important piece of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy.
Arnold, born and raised in Phenix City, showed a picture of her father Carlton Robert Mabry, Sr., who had been an officer with the NAACP. While cleaning house after her oldest sister’s passing, Arnold and family discovered documents in the bottom of an old cedar chest that sat at the end of their parent’s bed for fifty years. Inside a manila folder were pictures: one of Dr. King and one of Dr. King by himself, a rare tri-folded obituary for Dr. King and a booklet. The booklet, a rare find, was the first one designed by King when he founded the Southern Leadership Conference.
The documents were found three weeks before the 50th Anniversary celebration at The King Center in Atlanta. Judy Forte, also from Phenix City and a personal friend of Arnold’s, is the superintendent of The King Center. Arnold called Judy and arranged a meeting.
“When she met me with those documents, she cried,” Arnold said. “She cried because she had seen the obituary. They had a copy of that and of the pictures. What they did not have was the booklet.”
And to their surprise, inside the booklet was a letter written by King to the people of the United States.
The King Center had known of the letter’s existence, but had never seen it. Forte took the information back to Atlanta and verified its authenticity.
The King Center placed the donated documents in a case across from the wagon that had carried King’s body to his final resting place. Arnold and family received replicas of the documents and have offered to allow the county to place them for viewing.
Arnold asked if they could be placed in the courthouse because the names of Russell County and Phenix City are on the display in The King Center. However, Commissioner Gentry Lee said that he didn’t think that was a good idea and that the only such items they had were portraits of commissioners and other employees because it is a government building.
Also, a concern for possible vandalism or theft was raised.
The commission talked about placing the documents in the new museum that will be in the basement of the old post office or in Fort Mitchell, the latter suggested by Commissioner Cattie Epps.
In the end, Arnold said that she would also be making the same offer to the city and for the commission to think on it.
Since that meeting, Arnold has not appeared to the city council and The Citizen has made multiple attempts to reach her.