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Rosa Parks' Letter Release Detailing Rape Attempt Angers Institute

Colin Bootman/Getty(NEW YORK CITY) -- Members of the institute that Rosa Parks formed nearly 20 years before her death are horrified that Parks' personal letters, one of which reveals an attempted rape, are sitting at a New York City auction house waiting to be sold as part of a protracted dispute.

"The folks who cared about Rosa Parks the most, the folks at her institute, her best friend, Elaine Steele, and others are mortified that her private thoughts have now been published," said Steven Cohen, an attorney representing the institute.

A Michigan court has authorized Guernsey's Auctioneers and Brokers of New York to sell the merchandise as part of the settling of Parks' estate. Parks died in 2005 in Detroit, Mich., at 92 and a battle has since ensued among the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, Parks' relatives and the probate court.

Media coverage of an impending sale of 8,000 of Parks' items revealed a treasure trove of civil rights memorabilia, valued between $8 and $10 million. Along with the items that reveal details about Parks' civil rights work are personal letters written when she was a teenager and later in life to her husband and mother. Of particular concern to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute is a 1931 letter in which Parks describes fighting off a white neighbor who nearly raped her.

Parks, who moved to Detroit in the late 1950s, helped found the institute in 1987 and attorney Cohen said she had intended for her items and the licensing of her name to benefit the institute.

Cohen recently filed an application with the Michigan Supreme Court, challenging previous rulings that have stripped the institute from being a beneficiary of Parks' estate and from receiving any benefit from the sell of Parks' memorabilia and personal belongings.

In the July 19 court filing, Cohen wrote, "Since Mrs. Parks death in 2005, however, the court system of her adopted city has embarked on a course to destroy her legacy, bankrupt her institute, shred her estate plan and steal her very name."

Cohen said he filed the paperwork before he and the institute knew there was a letter detailing the attempted rape.

The institute claims that the personal revelation in the letter is not civil rights memorabilia and thus is not authorized to be sold.

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