Harry Belafonte is suing Martin Luther King’s estate for the rights to sell a number of unpublished speeches and letters by the late Dr King for charity. The film and music star claims he obtained the documents through his close friendship with MLK and filed a suit with the Manhattan Federal Court yesterday (Tuesday, October 15), TMZ reports.
Belafonte already attempted to auction off the letters back in 2008.
According to the report, the documents in question include notes from an undelivered speech that King had on him when he was assassinated in 1968, a famous 1967 speech that was King’s first outcry against America’s involvement in Vietnam, and a condolence letter that then-President Lyndon Johnson sent to King’s wife, Coretta, following MLK’s assassination.
Belafonte received the Vietnam speech from King himself, while the 1968 speech and the letter were given to him by a former aide of King’s and by Coretta, respectively. The case is likely to drag on for a while, as the documents are worth around $1.3 million in total, according to Belafonte’s own estimate. The actor has stated that he intends to donate all profits from their auction to charity.
Belafonte has vowed to donate the profits to charity.
In 2008, Belafonte gave the documents to Sotheby’s, to be estimated and then auctioned off, however his effort was cut short by Bernice King’s claim that the historical artifacts were wrongfully acquired. With the current suit, Belafonte is seeking damages and a court declaration that he is the rightful owner. “Sotheby’s refused to return the documents to Mr. Belafonte [who maintained ownership from a distance] until the Estate and Bernice’s claim was resolved formally or informally. The documents, which Mr. Belafonte wishes to be returned to his possession, have remained with Sotheby’s ever since,” the suit states. Despite this, Belafonte is not including Sotheby’s in the lawsuit.
Belafonte has long been an advocate for several social issues, including gay rights and marriage equality.