Harry Belafonte Sues Family of Martin Luther King Jr. Over Papers

The singer and activist said he has a legal right to auction papers given to him to raise funds for groups in need.

Posted: 10/16/2013 12:12 PM EDT

The family of Martin Luther King Jr. is once again embroiled in a legal battle, this time against Harry Belafonte, the legendary singer and activist who was one of the closest friends of the slain civil rights leader.

Belafonte is suing the estate of King over three documents that the singer has been seeking to sell at auction to provide funds for a civil rights group.

The documents include an outline of a speech by King regarding the war in Vietnam and a condolence letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson after the civil rights leader was shot in Memphis in 1968. The third document included notes for a speech King intended to give in Memphis, but was never delivered.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Manhattan, seeks to establish Belafonte as the rightful owner of the documents. In the lawsuit, the entertainer and activist stated that he and King were close friends and that the material was given to him by either the civil rights leader or his widow, Coretta Scott King.

However, the King family has been seeking for years to block Belafonte’s ability to sell the items, saying that they legitimately belonged to the estate of King.

In the suit, Belafonte said that he and King “worked on strategies and collaborated on issues that would transform American society.” The suit added that the two “forged a deep and enduring personal friendship.”

The suit also discussed the close relationship between King’s widow and Belafonte, quoting an autobiography she wrote in 2006 in which she stated: “whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid, his generous heart wide open.”

Miles J. Alexander, a lawyer for the King estate in Atlanta, said he had not yet completed his review of the lawsuit. “I’m examining it for the first time,” he said, speaking with BET.com. “I have no statement to make at this time.”

The King family has been actively seeking to regain possession of any documents associated with the legacy of the civil rights icon. Often those attempts have led to actions in court.

Belafonte’s suit states that King frequently gave drafts and copies of his speeches and other personal notes to friends. He said that the estate of King had made a number of “disturbing and illegitimate challenges to Dr. King’s gift-giving.”

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 (Photo: Matthew Eisman/Getty Images)

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