Belafonte, King Estate Reach Accord Over Papers

Harry Belafonte and the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. reached an agreement giving the singer ownership of several documents belonging to the civil-rights leader, including a speech found in his suit pocket just after he was assassinated.

“The parties have reached a compromise, the terms of which are confidential and have resulted in Mr. Belafonte retaining possession of the documents,” lawyers for Belafonte and the estate said in a joint statement today.

Court records didn’t indicate details of the accord.

The dispute started when Belafonte, who was close friends with King and his wife, decided to consign some of King’s papers for auction at Sotheby’s in 2008, according to a suit filed by the singer last year in Manhattan federal court.

King’s estate and his daughter, Bernice King, accused Belafonte of having “wrongfully acquired” the collection and Sotheby’s has refused since then to return the items to him until ownership is resolved, according to the complaint.

Among the items in dispute are an outline for a 1967 King speech called “Casualties of War in Vietnam” and a speech to have been delivered in Memphis that Belafonte and Coretta Scott King discovered in the civil rights leader’s pocket when they were preparing for his funeral in 1968, according to Belafonte’s complaint.

Also at issue is a typewritten condolence letter that President Lyndon B. Johnson sent to the widow after her husband was killed, Belafonte alleged.

The case is Belafonte v. Estate of Martin Luther King Jr., 13-cv-07241, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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