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Harry Belafonte will keep three of Martin Luther King’s documents

April 11, 2014

(Associated Press)

Lawyers announced a confidential settlement Friday between Harry Belafonte and the estate, letting Harry retain possession of the documents. 

Photo: (AP)

Photo: (AP)

“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.

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.

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.

The Bible and peace prize medal are being held in a safe deposit box controlled by the court pending the outcome of the dispute.

Harold George “Harry” Belafonte, Jr. (born March 1, 1927) is an American singer, songwriter, actor and social activist. One of the most successful Caribbean American pop stars in history, he was dubbed the “King of Calypso” for popularizing the Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) is the first million selling album by a single artist. Belafonte is perhaps best known for singing “The Banana Boat Song”, with its signature lyric “Day-O”. He has recorded in many genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. He has also starred in several films, most notably in Otto Preminger’s hit musical Carmen Jones (1954), 1957’s Island in the Sun, and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Belafonte was an early supporter of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, and one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants. Throughout his career he has been an advocate for humanitarian causes, such as the anti-apartheid movement and USA for Africa. Since 1987 he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In recent years he has been a vocal critic of the policies of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

Belafonte has won three Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. In 1989 he received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994. (Wikipedia)

 Harry Belafonte will keep three of Martin Luther King’s documents.

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