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The War Over MLK’s Civil Rights Documents
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The children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  are being sued by Harry Belafonte. Belafonte, a famous singer and social activist is taking Bernice King, Dexter King, and Martin Luther King III, the heirs of the Rev. MLK Jr. to court over three civil rights era documents.


In 2008 Belafonte attempted to put the documents into a Sotheby’s auction and use the funds raised for a community organization. The King estate, according to CNN, stopped the sale, and went on to allege that the documents that he tried to put up for auction did not belong to Belafonte. Belafonte is 86, and is suing the heirs of MLK to “establish ownership.”

The tragedy behind this tale lies in the fact that the two parties were best friends that had a true close family friendship. Belafonte had provided all that he could in terms of his time, wealth and support to support the children. At the same time he was always doing fundraisers for causes that would support MLK’s vision.

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MLK’s widow, Coretta Scott King, said of Belafonte in her autobiography, “Whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid, his generous heart wide open.” After 2006, a split separated Belafonte and the King family. Belafonte was always an outspoken critic of the former President Bush. However, at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, MLK’s children uninvited Belafonte from speaking after George W. Bush’ attendance was confirmed. That uninviting must have broken Belafonte’s heart, as things weren’t the same afterwards.

Belafonte himself commented on how he managed the finances of MLK’s family, and how he perceived his relationship with them. During an interview with the independent global news Democracy Now, Belafonte commented that he wanted to ensure “the welfare of [MLK’s] family; and it was my task – as we brought recourses, to direct all that, to watch the kids grow, to put aside money for their studies, to take care of Coretta, and to make sure she had every convenience at her disposal.”

Though King’s children have repeatedly lost cases to regain their father’s documents, they will fight in court for ownership. Belafonte’s attorneys maintain that the King family’s legal claim has expired. The three documents whose ownership rights are being sued over were in Belafonte’s possession, as he said that King, his aides, or his widow gave the documents to him. Interestingly, there is a sketch written on a legal pad of one of King’s most famous speeches – that was written in Belafonte’s apartment. Also among the document group were notes for a future speech- that lay in MLK’s pocket on the day he was shot to death.

Image Credit: Politics Daily, NY Mag,



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