NEW YORK - The memorabilia collection of civil rights icon Rosa Parks - medals, papers, even the hat she wore on her historic bus ride - is in the hands of a New York auction house, its ownership in limbo, with a value once pegged at $US10 million.
Her estate, valued at $US372,000 at the time of her death, is mostly gone - eaten up by lawyers' fees. But the coat Mrs Parks wore on the day she made civil rights history in December 1955 is missing, news sources report.
When Mrs Parks's 13 nieces and nephews signed a 2007 legal agreement to settle a dispute over their aunt's estate, they promised to contribute the coat to her memorabilia collection.
But they never turned it over, Steve Cohen, attorney for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, said in court filings.
The relatives' lawyer, Lawrence Pepper, says the coat is gone. He said Mrs Parks gave it to one of her nieces who was attending college in the '60s or '70s and she wore it and eventually got rid of it.
''She didn't realise it had any value,'' Mr Pepper said, adding that the niece submitted a court affidavit to that effect.
The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development is fighting to hold on to the collection.
''Since Mrs Parks's death in 2005, the court system of her adopted city [Detroit] has embarked on a course to destroy her legacy, bankrupt her institute, shred her estate plan and steal her very name,'' Mr Cohen said.
Mrs Parks died in October 2005 at the age of 92. Her nephew, William McCauley, petitioned the court to be named personal representative of his aunt's estate, claiming her long-time friend Elaine Steele had tricked her into signing a will that cut her 13 nieces and nephews out of any decision-making about how her likeness would be used and any profit derived from the licensing of her name and image.
As well as a friend, Ms Steele was Mrs Parks's personal assistant and co-founder of the institute, which the pair created in 1987 to teach young people about the civil rights struggle and help them achieve their potential.
Guernsey's Auctions in New York is trying to sell the memorabilia. Its president, Arlan Ettinger, said the auction house wanted to sell the entire collection to an institution that could care for and use it to educate and inspire future generations.
''In difficult economic times, very few museums are sitting around with huge bank accounts ready to spend,'' Mr Ettinger said. ''That's why this has been a long haul. In the end, I feel this will come to a happy conclusion that will make everyone proud.''