The singer and social activist Harry Belafonte has sued the estate of Martin Luther King Jr over the ownership of documents that Belafonte says were given to him by the late civil rights later and his wife, according to the court documents filed on Tuesday (October 15, 2013).

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York, Belafonte asks to be declared the owner of three documents and to bar King's estate from trying to claim ownership.

In a messy dispute, Belafonte claims he is the owner of King's Casualties of the War in Vietnam speech - which he has had since 1967 - The Memphis Speech that was found in one of King's suit pockets after his 1968 assassination, and a letter of condolence that President Lyndon Johnson sent to King's widow after his death. 

King's estate dispute Belafonte's ownership of the documents when the singer took the items to Sotheby's auction house in New York to be appraised and put up for sale in 2008. The items were withdrawn from auction after King's estate and his youngest daughter Bernice King said Belafonte had "wrongfully acquired" them and they remain in Sotheby's possession. 

The 86-year-old, known as the King of Calypso for his Caribbean-infused songs, was a close friend and supporter of King. In the lawsuit he asks the court to order Sotheby's to return his items.  

The lawsuit comes in the same week that DreamWorks green-lit a biopic of Martin Luther King Jr to be directed by Oliver Stone. The Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx has reportedly signed on to play the civil rights leader, while the King family has given permission for King's copyrighted speeches to be used, including I Have A Dream.

The news will have dismayed director Paul Greengrass, who has been busy working on his Martin Luther King Jr movie Memphis for years. According to, the movie comes equipped with an incredible Oscar worthy script, though with concerns about its content - King is shown in bed with a woman that is not his wife - and difficulties with financing, Memphis may never see the light of day.  

Harry Belafonte WifeHarry Belafonte And His Wife