Mrs. King Loses Court Fight to Get Her Husband’s Papers

Associated Press

A jury on Thursday rejected claims by the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the papers the civil rights leader had given to Boston University.

The Suffolk Superior Court jury, ruling in a lawsuit by Coretta Scott King, found that a July 16, 1964, letter that King signed constituted a binding charitable pledge to the school where he obtained his doctorate in theology.

Mrs. King filed the lawsuit in December, 1987, seeking the return of 83,000 letters, documents and manuscripts that her husband had deposited with the university in 1964 and 1965. She said King sent the papers there for safekeeping, but later changed his mind about giving them to the university.

Mrs. King’s attorneys, who spoke with her by telephone, said she was disappointed that the papers would not be sent to Atlanta and join the rest of his personal writings at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.


The case focused on the 1964 letter, in which King agreed to deposit his papers with the university. But the letter spelled out that King retained ownership of the papers until he either designated them as gifts to Boston University or until his death.

Mrs. King’s lawyers argued that the letter was neither a contract nor a pledge, but simply a statement of intention that King could change at any time.

The letter was signed at the same time Boston University professor Harold DeWolf, a friend and mentor of King’s, packed up the first batch of papers in 1964. King sent another batch of papers to the university in 1965, but then did not send any more.

The university argued at the trial that King got too busy. Mrs. King argued that her husband had decided against depositing additional papers.