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Harry Belafonte is a music legend and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a legend of the civil rights movement. The two were close friends and Belafonte, now 84, was a supporter of King’s efforts. However, the singer is now involved in a dispute with King’s estate over three documents he said were given to him. But the King estate disagrees.
Belafonte claims that three King documents were part of his collection of artifacts from the era. According to The New York Times, Belafonte said that three speeches were given to him by King, his widow Coretta Scott King and King’s assistant Stanley Levison. The documents are King’s 1968 speech “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam,” a letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to King’s widow and the envelope that was in King’s pocket when he was assassinated in 1968.
“The papers are symbolic,” Belafonte told the Times. “It’s really about what happened to the children, and I feel that somewhere, in this one area, I really failed Martin.”
Belafonte had the documents until December 2008, when he tried to auction them off at Sotheby’s for a charity he supports. However, King’s estate stepped in. The New York Post reports that Bernice King, one of King’s heirs, claimed that the documents were “wrongfully acquired.”
Since then, the papers have been locked in Sotheby’s vault. It is illegal for an auction house to return items to someone who may have wrongfully acquired the pieces, so they have to wait until the rightful owner is declared.
On Tuesday, Belafonte asked the federal court to do just that, declaring him the owner. He believes that the documents would have sold for $1.3 million and is seeking unspecified damages in the suit.
“Dr. King was a regular guest at Mr. Belafonte’s Manhattan apartment: he worked, socialized and rested there,” the suit states. “Not surprisingly, during their long time together, Mr. Belafonte came to own documents associated with Dr. King and his widow.”
The suit also notes that the estate has never produced evidence to prove that Belafonte stole the items.
image: Wikimedia Commons