Harry Belafonte is suing the three children of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his right to sell letters and notes that once belonged to the late Civil Rights leader.

Reports the New York Times:

At issue are three documents that used to be in Mr. Belafonte’s collection of memorabilia, along with other photos and letters on the walls of his apartment, chronicling his long friendship with Dr. King. Mr. Belafonte says the papers were given to him by Dr. King himself; by his widow, Coretta Scott King; and by Dr. King’s close aide Stanley Levison.

Dr. King’s heirs — Dexter, Bernice and Martin Luther King III — have said the documents were taken without permission and belong to the estate.

Mr. Belafonte, who often supported the King family financially during the civil rights struggle, said the dispute pains him. He said in his view, Dr. King’s children had drifted away from their father’s values. “The papers are symbolic,” he said. “It’s really about what happened to the children, and I feel that somewhere, in this one area, I really failed Martin.”

The documents are priceless. One is an outline of Dr. King’s famed 1967 speech “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam,” another is  a letter of condolence from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Mrs. King and the third are notes Dr. King had in his pocket the day he was assassinated in 1968.

Belafonte’s attempt to sell the items in 2008 via Sotheby’s Auction house were thwarted when Dr. King’s children claimed the items were stolen. Right now, memorabilia remains in the possession of Sotheby’s until their legal owner is determined.

The King family has long aggressively pursued items that once belonged to Dr. King. Belafonte claims he wants to use the proceeds from the sale of the items for the charity Barrios Unidos. However, all attempts working out a compromise out of court apparently failed, thus the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday (Oct. 15) in federal court in Manhattan asking a judge to declare him the rightful owner of the papers.

It’s a safe bet Dr. King would not approve of any of these shenanigans.

Photo: New York Times

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