Bankruptcy Complicates National Archives Deal for Roosevelt Papers

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When President Obama signed a law on Monday to clear the way for the largest privately held archive of papers relating to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be donated to Roosevelt’s presidential library, it was to be the culmination of a five-year effort to finally make the documents available to the public....

The documents, which belonged to Roosevelt’s last personal secretary, Grace Tully, have been in legal limbo for years because of an ownership dispute involving the National Archives, which runs the library, and Hollinger International, a now-bankrupt company formerly controlled by the Canadian press baron Conrad M. Black, who is serving a federal prison sentence in Florida on fraud charges.

In an odd twist, the new law removes the government claim on the condition that the collection is donated to the government. But the bankruptcy has thrown this carefully negotiated settlement into doubt.

For officials of the National Archives, which had worked with Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, to get hold of the papers since Hollinger tried to sell them at Sotheby’s in 2005, the prospect of the papers’ being held hostage, or even sold off, as a result of bankruptcy proceedings has prompted dismay.

“I’m absolutely worried,” said Cynthia M. Koch, director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y. “We’ve worked with Senator Schumer for years on this. To be working so hard on something and then suddenly realize the possibility that there’s yet another hurdle has been distressing.”

The papers, including official correspondence, handwritten notes and photographs, were in the estate of Ms. Tully, who began working for Roosevelt in 1929, when he was governor of New York. She was his personal secretary from 1941 until his death in 1945, and died in 1984, at 83....

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