Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor and veteran civil rights activist, is suing the estate of Martin Luther King Jr as part of a dispute with King’s family over a collection of documents Belafonte intends to auction for charity.
The lawsuit, filed in New York, maintains that Belafonte, now 86, is the rightful owner of King’s outline for a celebrated address about the Vietnam War; notes for another speech found on King’s person following his assassination in Memphis in 1968; and a condolence letter to his wife, Coretta Scott King, from the then-US President, Lyndon Johnson.
In 2008, Belafonte took the items to Sotheby’s auction house, hoping to sell them, he says, to raise money for the street gangs charity Barrios Unidos. He estimates the documents’ combined worth at approximately $1.3m (£800,000). Yet King’s children – Dexter, Bernice and Martin Luther King III – blocked the sale, alleging the papers were “wrongfully acquired”.
The lawsuit describes Belafonte and King’s relationship as a “deep and enduring personal friendship”. The entertainer is known to have supported the King family financially during the fight for civil rights. Yet in 2006 he had a public falling out with King’s children
The lawyer for the King estate declined to comment.