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NEW YORK (AP) — Harry Belafonte sued the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Tuesday over the fate of three documents he tried to sell at auction.

The lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan seeks unspecified damages and a court declaration Belafonte is the rightful owner.

The documents are an outline of a Vietnam War speech by King, notes to a speech King never got to deliver in Memphis, Tenn., and a condolence letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to King’s wife after the civil rights leader’s 1968 assassination.

According to the lawsuit, Belafonte was preparing to auction the items in 2008 when the estate “astonishingly” blocked it.

The lawsuit cited the close relationship between Belafonte and King, saying the pair “worked on strategies and collaborated on issues that would transform American society” while they “forged a deep and enduring personal friendship.” It said King and his widow, Coretta Scott King, gave Belafonte a number of items and it noted that Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006, mentioned Belafonte in her autobiography, saying “whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid, his generous heart wide open.”

Belafonte said he delivered the documents for auction to Sotheby’s Inc. in early 2008 and the auction house has held them pending a resolution of the dispute between the estate and Belafonte.

The lawsuit said Belafonte had held the Vietnam War speech outline since 1967, when King left it behind after working on it in Belafonte’s apartment. It said the Memphis speech notes were found in King’s suit pocket after he was assassinated. According to the lawsuit, Coretta Scott King offered the notes to Belafonte but he suggested they instead be given to one of King’s longest-serving confidants. When that man died in 1979, his widow delivered the notes to Belafonte, it said.

The letter from Johnson was given to Belafonte by Coretta Scott King about a decade ago after she admired the collection of historic documents on a wall of his home, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said King frequently gave drafts and copies of his speeches, correspondence and working papers to friends and fellow civil rights activists and that his estate has made a series of “disturbing and illegitimate challenges to Dr. King’s gift-giving” in recent years.

Miles J. Alexander, a lawyer for the Atlanta-based King estate, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

“I have no comment I can make right now,” he said.

We Remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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10 thoughts on “Belafonte Sues Martin Luther King Jr. Estate in NY

  1. Daniel Asamota on said:

    The memory of the man who gave his life in defense of our rights as African Americans shouldn’t be frittered away! That’s why no one respects black people cause we don’t respect ourselves! Listen to some of these comments! Anything for a buck? It’s all about you, eh? If Martin Luther King hadn’t done what he did for us, you’d still be living under Jim Crow still being terrorised by mobs whipped up by the klan! This is the best you can do in his memory?

    • BlackBeauty on said:

      Now why is that?
      You have no clue what you are talking about, nor do you even remotely understand what this is about.
      Please Black folks, stop reacting/dealing with “emotion” and start thinking for yourselves.

  2. dcbrother4u on said:

    Its a mystery to me too, why would Belafonte want to sell such priceless items from the King era? Give them to the King Center or some related organization, not necessarily the King children though, they might sell the items themselves. Why sue to sell your heritage??

    • BlackBeauty on said:

      Why would he be selling his heritage? His heritage? I think there is much more to his “heritage” than those few papers LOL!
      Mr. Belafonte has given much to them through all of these years.
      No matter what the reason, they belong to him!
      Again, these children are greedy, and want any and all things they feel is of monatary value.
      It is one thing to protect your parents legacy, that is understood, however if there was so much concern they need to make sure their parents resting place and tribute in the ATL is at least taken care of properly with some of the MILLIONS they have because of their father.

  3. BlackBeauty on said:

    The items do not belong to the King children, and I hardly think that Mr. Belafonte has no money. This suit has been ongoing since 2008.

    The King children need to sit down, and stop thinking that the general public owes them something (like taking care of them and their lifestyle) for all of their lives.. These “children” are greedy, and lazy, and need to go to work.

    If they put in even half of the work Mr. Belafonte has contributed towards their father and the Civil Rights Movement, they would be doing something worth while.

    The items belong to Harry Belafonte. He can do whatever he wants to do with them.

  4. Daniel Asamota on said:

    Why would Harry Belefonte put such a valuable piece of African American history up for auction? This is not something you sell! And to just anybody! The only moral thing he could do is to return these documents to the rightful heirs of this property; MLK’s children! Or pass it down to his children! What has he gotten into bad financial straits or something that he would do something so base? Harry, you need to re-think this one!

    • If I needed money, and I something I could sell to get it, I’s sell it. Unless the King children or my children could take care of me financially, they could go kick rocks. Times are hard.

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