(Matthew Eisman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK -- Singer Harry Belafonte has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the three surviving children of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- who was one of his closest friends -- over items he says were given to him by Dr. King.
Belafonte, who is 86, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a court declaration that he owns the items, reports The New York Times.
RELATED | Consultant sues King Center for $216,000
RELATED | Brothers say documents at King Center in jeopardy
At issue are three documents that used to be in Belafonte's collection of memorabilia, along with other photos and letters on the walls of his apartments, chronicling his long friendship with Dr. King. Belafonte says the papers were given to him by Dr. King himself; by his widow, Coretta Scott King; and by Dr. King's close aide Stanley Levison.
Dr. King's children -- Dexter, Bernice and Martin Luther King III -- have said the documents were taken without permission and belong to the estate.
Belafonte, who often supported the King family financially during the civil rights struggle, said the dispute pains him. He said that in his opinion, King's children's drifted away from their father's values.
According to the NYT, the documents include:
* A three-page outline for Dr. King's 1967 speech "The Casualties of the War in Vietnam," written on a legal pad in Belafonte's New York apartment.
* A letter of condolence from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Mrs. King.
* An envelope King had in his pocket the day he was assassinated in 1968. On it he had scribbled notes for a speech he was to give in Memphis.
Belafonte reportedly tried to sell the documents in 2008 at Sotheby's auction house to raise money, he says, for Barrios Unidos, a charity that works with street gangs. King's estate challenged the sale, saying they are "part of a wrongfully acquired collection."
The NYT said efforts to reach a lawyer for the King estate were not successful. A spokeswoman for Bernice King said Ms. King had no comment. Attempts to reach a spokesman at the King Center in Atlanta were also unsuccessful.
(Atlanta Business Chronicle)