03/15/2004 - A long-running Jackson family legal dispute has set the stage for latest in a long list of sordid
scandals surrounding embattled pop star Michael Jackson. This is the story of the sale of priceless Michael
Jackson memorabilia to an unknown European buyer. This is also the story of the loss of historical artifacts
that reflect the cultural legacy not only of Michael Jackson, but also of Black American culture and music.
And it's a cryin' shame!
The story actually began back in December of 1998 when federal marshals seized several items from the
Jackson family's Havenhurst home in Encino, California. The seizures were an attempt to collect a $1.8
million judgment entered in 1996 after Jackson Communications Inc. (not including family members
Michael, Janet or Latoya) filed bankruptcy in New Jersey. The items seized included the white baby grand
piano Michael used to compose some of the songs for his record-breaking "Thriller" album. The marshals
also took a 1963 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. At the time, Brian Oxman, an attorney for the Jackson family,
said the piano and the car belonged to Michael Jackson (who was not named in the lawsuit), not his parents.
Jackson Communications, a company set up in 1991, had tried unsuccessfully to develop a Jackson Family
entertainment complex in Asbury Park and a chain of Jackson Family-themed restaurants around the world.
According to attorney Robert Sainburg, Jackson Communications had entered into a deal in 1992 to
purchase Kramer Guitar, a Neptune, NJ-based guitar manufacturer. Jackson Communications was
eventually sued by Kramer Guitar for allegedly defaulting on the deal, paying only $200,000 of the $1.5
million purchase price. At the time Sainburg was quoted as saying, "I'm sorry we had to show up on their
doorstep with U.S. marshals and a court order, but these people haven't even tried to pay what they owe.
They claim they have no money."
The memorabilia was stored in a 1,500 square foot storage unit in an Oxnard, California storage facility for
$580 a month. The unit was rented in the name of Tito Jackson, although Katherine Jackson often paid the
bill. "This was the memorabilia for the restaurant chains, and there were movies and videos of Michael and
the whole family growing up that nobody¹s ever seen," says Henry V. Vaccaro Sr., the former president of
The 63 year old Vaccaro acquired the memorabilia collection in 2002 after nine years of legal wrangling
with the Jackson family, and after paying off a $60,000 storage bill owed by the Jackson family to the
Oxnard storage facility. He has spent the past two years cataloguing and photographing the collection which
has been housed in a 6,000 square foot section of a New Jersey warehouse. Vaccaro says two separate
experts have authenticated the collection.
Talking about the collection on ABC's "Good Morning America" Vaccaro says, "It's pretty big. It's the
largest private collection in the world of Michael Jackson and Jackson family memorabilia." After selling the
collection to an anonymous Europe buyer for an undisclosed sum, Vaccaro is giving the public a glimpse of
the goods on www/jacksonvault.com, a pay-per-view Web site, while the collection is expected to ship out
of the country in a few days.
The memorabilia includes costumes (gold-trimmed jackets with military-style epaulets and metal-studded
shinguards), including one of Michael Jackson's earliest stage costumes with his name handwritten on the
inside label; a photo of a young Jackson wearing that very costume; gold and platinum records; awards;
pictures, paintings; sketches signed by Michael Jackson (one is a sketch of a boy, titled "Little Boy 1994,
another a sketch of Charlie Chaplin). The treasure chest of collectibles also includes the deed to the pop
star's Neverland Ranch and some very personal items ? such as notes and a medical contract for surgery
supposedly performed on Janet Jackson's nose; and intimate letters going back and forth including a letter
from Mrs. Jackson complaining to the Jehovah's Witness Fellowship because evidently they must have
Inquiring minds want to know how could they (whoever is responsible for this fiasco) let so many of the
family's personal possessions and valuable memorabilia fall into someone else's hands? Could no one come
up with the $580 a month storage fee? And, if they couldn't, did they consider contacting one of the major
U.S. museums who collect black culture memorabilia -- what about the Schomberg?
Vaccaro himself has begged the question, "Well, you know, it's crazy ? how they could let a complete
stranger get all their personal possessions?"
Dozens of buyers viewed the collection. I want to know did Vaccaro view it for any black culture
historians, preservationist or collectors? Umm, the Schomberg again comes to mind. Finally, did Vaccaro
contact Michael Jackson and give him the opportunity to buy back his family's history? Apparently not.
According to the pop star's spokesperson, Michael Jackson was "shocked" to find out that the warehouse
contained some of his most personal items. Michael says he only gave his family permission to use this
memorabilia for a theme restaurant they supposedly planned on opening. He wasn't directly involved in this
legal battle, and he says he now wants to buy back his treasured possessions.
Philip J. Merrill, an author and nationally recognized expert in artifacts related to African American history
says he wishes there was some way Jackson could reacquire his possessions but doesn't think he has much
of a chance to recover them, unless he goes the litigation route.
When Merrill, who is also a guest appraiser on PBS¹ "Antiques Roadshow," initially heard of the collection
his first response was "Oh my Lord, here goes another one. I had to just shoot up a prayer." He says the
content is mind boggling. "I was dumbfounded." Merrill explains that this is another sad loss in a long list of
pilfered African American cultural artifacts because a storage bill wasn't paid. "We have a lost a part of our
culture in almost every city across the United States. When will we wake up?" Merrill laments.
"That's our history, our culture, out legacy and we must preserve it," says political and cultural activist Earl
Ofari Hutchinson who called this just another sorry saga in this [Jackson] tragedy. Hutchinson says we've
seen this before with other historically valued collections.
Two years ago the daughter of Malcolm X had an extensive collection of speeches, journals, and notes
attributed to her father, the late civil rights leader Malcolm X, stored in a storage unit. The storage unit fee
went unpaid and a complete stranger paid the storage fee and took ownership of the possessions, putting
them on the sales block at Buttlefield's Auction House. After a lengthy legal and public relations battle, the
auction was blocked. Butterfield's cancelled the auction after receiving a letter from the estate of the late
Betty Shabazz and the attorney for Malcolm X's daughters questioning the ownership of the Malcolm X
documents. The items were later donated to the Schomberg Center in Harlem, NYC. Hutchinson also
recalls instances when significant and priceless items belongings of W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr.
and Paul Robeson, to name just a few, fell into other people's hands.
"The remnants of history can scatter so quickly if care is not taken with their preservation. One hopes that
the collection of the artifacts of Michael Jackson's life will be cataloged, maintained, and kept intact," says
media and culture expert, KC Arceneaux. "Michael Jackson should have had a choice about the future of
these precious, irreplaceable things. It should have been his choice whether or not to hand them down to his
childen, or will them to a museum upon his death. What is being lost is an important part of the legacy of
black culture, and of music, and of a country," adds Arceneaux, who holds a Ph.D. in African Studies.
How significant is this collection? "I think it is critically important and could open up a whole new arena for
scholars to look into the evolution of Michael Jackson and pop music. Artifacts are a big part of telling our
accurate story," says Merrill. "Sadly, we don't value our own heritage. If this was a Beatles collection, there
would be a huge public outcry like there was over the Malcolm X papers. Michael Jackson is a musical
genius who has redefined the whole pop music industry but unfortunately his name has been tainted by the
pedophile charges," he adds.
The sale of the Jackson memorabilia, considered to be the largest of its kind in the world, is not only a
personal loss, but it is a cultural loss. We must be devoted to collecting, preserving, archiving, and providing
access to resources documenting the experiences and accomplishments of Black Americans and our history
in America. It is part of our creative legacy and historical contributions to the world, and now this collection
will probably be toured throughout Europe and Japan. "Why wasn't anyone notified," Merrill wonders.
"This collection could have stayed in African American hands, or at least the United States. Our legacies
need to be uplifted," he adds.
All of us must insure the preservation of our history and our legacy for historical record, by any means
necessary. And if necessary, pass the collection plate!
Entertainment writer and media commentator Tanya Kersey is the editor-in-chief of Black Talent
News, a contributing editor and columnist for several other media outlets including EUR, Target
Market News, Radio Facts, Black Journalist and Raw Story. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.