Legendary singer Harry Belafonte’s lawsuit against the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. has come to an appropriately peaceful end.
Belafonte and King’s estate announced Friday they’d reached a deal, ending Belafonte’s Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit, which had charged King’s family was improperly trying to block him from selling some of the slain civil rights leader’s documents.
“The parties have reached a compromise, the terms of which are confidential and have resulted in Mr. Belafonte retaining possession of the documents,” the statement said.
The 87-year-old “King of Calypso” and King became close while working together during the Civil Rights movement.
The reverend and the “Banana Boat(Day-O)” singer “forged a deep and enduring personal friendship. Dr. King was a regular guest at Mr. Belafonte’s Manhattan apartment: he worked socialized, and rested there. In addition, over the years Mr. Belafonte provided much needed financial support to the reverend and his family,” Belafonte’s suit said.
In her autobiography, King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, wrote, “Whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid.” But when the human rights activist tried to auction off papers that had been given to him by King and his widow in 2008 to fund his non-profit work, King and Scott-King’s estates accused him of having “wrongfully acquired” the works.
The claim resulted in the auction being halted, and Sotheby’s hanging on to the documents until the dispute was resolved.
The items — which were expected to fetch about $1.8 million — included the outline of a 1967 speech King gave on Vietnam, notes for an undelivered speech that were in King’s suit pocket when he was assassinated, and President Lyndon Johnson’s condolence letter to Scott-King.
Belafonte said all three items were his, and the estate didn’t have one “scintilla of evidence” otherwise. The suit sought a court order allowing the historical documents “to be released into the possession of their rightful owner, Harry Belafonte.”
He won a default judgment against Scott-King’s estate, and the deal with King’s estate means he’ll get the documents back.
It was not immediately clear if he still plans to auction them off.