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Harry Belafonte to keep Martin Luther King documents after court decision

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Harry Belafonte, a famed singer and activist will keep three of Martin Luther King’s documents now that a court has made a decision regarding an ongoing battle between Belafonte and the King estate. The court case involving King's estate and Harry Belafonte was over the estate not wanting Belafonte to sell the documents. While the court has given ownership of the documents to Belafonte, the conditions on which he is allowed to keep them in his possession are not known, according to a Miami Herald report on Friday.

King’s estate, incidentally, is now controlled by Martin Luther King’s three surviving children: Martin Luther King III, Bernice King, and Dexter King. Dexter King was sued by the other two siblings when they accused him of acting improperly as head of the King estate. A settlement was reached between the three some five years ago.

In the Belafonte court case, Belafonte has had three documents written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that ended up in his possession. One of the papers is an outline of a Vietnam War speech written by King, another is notes to a speech King never got to deliver in Memphis due to his assassination, and one is a condolence letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Coretta Scott King – King’s widow.

The letter to Coretta Scott King from President Johnson was given to Belafonte personally by King’s wife, according to a lawsuit asserted by Belafonte. King’s wife reportedly had admired the collection of historical documents on a wall in Belafonte’s home about two years before she passed away, and she gave the letter to him to add to his collection of historical documents.

The Vietnam speech outline was left behind at Belafonte’s apartment by Martin Luther King after he worked on the speech at Belafonte’s residence. Belafonte also received that document from Coretta Scott King, but Belafonte suggested that the notes be given to one of Dr. King’s longest-serving confidants. When that person died in 1979, the notes were returned to Belafonte.

As for the Memphis speech found in King’s pocket after he was assassinated, that was given to Belafonte as well.

Even though these documents were given to Belafonte by Coretta Scott King – who passed away in 2006 - it has been in and out of court for Belafonte and others who have Martin Luther King Jr. documents as the King estate is now under the surviving children.

Since 2008, Sotheby’s Inc. has held the King items involved in the Belafonte vs. King estate case. In a statement from Sotheby’s, it has been said that it is very pleased to hear that the parties have reached an agreement, and it says that the items will be returned to Harry Belafonte.

What Belafonte plans to do with the documents is unknown - just as the conditions of the agreement are unknown which likely specifies what he may do with the items in the future.

There are still ongoing court battles going on between the King estate and persons in possession of other items and images of Martin Luther King Jr. One of the ongoing battles has been among the three surviving King children as Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King want to sell the items and Bernice King who does not want to sell them.

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