Singer and activist Harry Belafonte will get to keep three of Martin Luther King’s documents that the King estate had blocked him from selling.
Lawyers announced a confidential settlement Friday between Belafonte and the estate letting Belafonte retain possession of the documents. No other terms were announced, and the lawyers refused to comment further.
“The parties express their appreciation to one another for the good faith efforts that led to this resolution,” the lawyers said in a joint statement.
Belafonte sued the civil rights leader’s estate in October in federal court in Manhattan after being blocked from auctioning the documents. The papers 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 his 1968 assassination.
Belafonte’s lawsuit said King and his widow, Coretta Scott King, gave Belafonte a number of items. Court papers 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.
It’s not yet known what Belafonte plans to do with the documents. Sotheby’s Inc. has held them since 2008 pending resolution of the dispute.
“Sotheby’s is very pleased to hear that the parties have reached an agreement and we anticipate returning the documents to Mr. Belafonte,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
King’s family and estate have sent numerous cease-and-desist letters to stop various uses of King’s written work and image, and followed up with court action if they weren’t satisfied with the results. Last year, they sued Andrew Young, a King confidante who helped their father coordinate civil rights efforts throughout the South, over footage of King that shows up in a series produced by Young’s foundation. That lawsuit is still pending.
In 1987, Coretta Scott King sued Boston University and lost over papers her husband had given to the school where he earned his doctorate. In 2011, the estate filed a federal lawsuit in Jackson, Miss., against the son of Maude Ballou, who was King’s secretary in the late 1950s, over documents including letters from King. They lost, and those documents were put up for auction by Ballou.
The three surviving King children – eldest sibling Yolanda died in 2007 – have also sued each other. In 2008, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III sued Dexter King, accusing him of acting improperly as head of their father’s estate. The three reached a settlement in October 2009.
The three King children are currently fighting in court over possession of King’s Nobel Peace Prize medal and one of his Bibles. The slain civil rights icon’s estate, controlled by his sons, is locked in a legal dispute with Bernice King over ownership of the items. The Martin Luther King Jr. Estate Inc., which is run by Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King, wants to sell the items, while Bernice is opposed to the sale.
Outside the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
July 26, 2013
The Bible and peace prize medal are being held in a safe deposit box controlled by the court pending the outcome of the dispute.