Boston University, declaring that it owns all of Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers, has asked a court to order the widow of the slain civil rights leader to surrender the documents to the school.
The university made the demand Wednesday in a counterclaim filed in response to Coretta Scott King's suit seeking the return of 83,000 documents her husband gave the school four years before his death.Boston University Trustee Melvin B. Miller, whose law firm is defending the university in the suit, refused comment on the case, and Jim O'Brien, one of Mrs. King's lawyers, said he had not reviewed the university's counterclaim.
The university argues that it not only owned the documents in its possession, but also any other documents written by or collected by King, who was assassinated 20 years ago this week.
The university asked for a court order requiring Mrs. King to surrender all her husband's papers, contending that she violated King's pledge to BU and had "wrongfully detained and converted the remainder of Dr. King's papers."
BU also seeks damages, attorneys' fees and an inventory of any King's papers that are in her possession or at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.
In her suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Mrs. King requests that BU be ordered to give the King papers it has to the Atlanta center, which was established in 1968 and contains more than 100,000 documents belonging to King.
The BU collection contains speeches, sermons, letters and photographs from the 1950s and 1960s, including the outline for his famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at a 1963 Washington, D.C., rally.
King, assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, wrote in a July 1964 letter that the collection would become BU property following his death. Mrs. King, however, claims her husband privately indicated he wanted his papers stored permanently in the South.
Mrs. King also accused BU of damaging her husband's papers by mishandling them. In its response to her suit, BU contended that any damage to the papers was caused by King, Mrs. King or their associates.
Central to the case is a one-page, typewritten letter dated July 16, 1964, from King to the BU library.
King, who received his doctorate in theology from BU in 1955, wrote that the library would be "the repository of my correspondence, manuscripts and other papers."