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Jury Rejects Coretta Scott King’s Lawsuit Seeking MLK’s Papers

May 6, 1993 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ A jury rejected claims Thursday by the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. to the papers the civil rights leader had given to Boston University.

The 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.

The Suffolk Superior Court jury deliberated about seven hours over two days.

Mrs. King filed the lawsuit in December 1987, seeking return of 83,000 letters, documents and manuscripts that her husband had deposited with BU in 1964 and 1965.


She said King sent the papers to Boston University for safekeeping, but changed his mind about giving them to the university.

Mrs. King’s attorneys, who spoke with her by telephone, said she was disappointed 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.

″There was ample evidence in the trial that Dr. King had changed his mind. In my mind there was no question there,″ said James O’Brien, an attorney for Mrs. King.

Another King attorney Archer Smith said the family was considering an appeal.

Earle Cooley, a Boston University trustee and its lead attorney in the case, said the jury simply found according to the law rather than emotion.

The case focused on the 1964 letter, in which King had 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 BU or until his death.

Mrs. King’s lawyers argued 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 BU in 1965, but then didn’t send any more.

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

Another key issue was over the length of time it took Mrs. King to make a claim.

BU argued Mrs. King should have known no later than the fall of 1984, when Boston University President John Silber spoke to an archivist at the King center in Atlanta, that BU was claiming ownership of the papers.

Mrs. King said she did not learn of BU’s claim until a December 1985 face- to-face meeting with Silber.

But Silber said a 1981 letter he wrote to Mrs. King, asking her to send the King papers from the center in Atlanta to BU showed the university felt it owned its collection of King papers.

The papers are the most heavily used collection in the university library.

Chris Donohue, a BU spokesman, said 500 scholars and researchers have used the collection since 1965.

In addition, Donohue said, thousands of students have seen portions of the collection that have been put on public exhibit.