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MLK papers to stay with owner
Judge: Estate has no right to docs found in N.C.
 
Published Thursday, March 14, 2013 7:30 am
by Holbrook Mohr, The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. Ė A Mississippi television anchorman can keep documents and other materials tied to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., that the civil rights leaderís estate sued to obtain, a federal appeals court panel ruled last week.


Kingís estate sued WLBT-TVís Howard Ballou in September 2011 in U.S. District Court in Jackson. The estate wanted possession of documents, photographs and other items that Ballouís mother got while working for King.


Maude Ballou worked as Kingís secretary from 1955 to 1960 and kept documents during the time King led the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the lawsuit said.


Maude Ballou said King gave her the material.


U.S. District Judge Tom Lee dismissed the estateís lawsuit on March 23, saying there was nothing to contradict Maude Ballouís testimony that King gave her the material and that the statute of limitations had passed.


A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the decision Friday based on the statute of limitations ruling.


The panel said the clock started when Maude Ballou left Kingís employment in 1960, not when the estate asked Howard Ballou for the material in 2010. The estate said it didnít know about the material until a newspaper wrote about that year.


ďThank God justice prevailed,Ē Howard Ballou said Friday in a telephone interview. ďIím just happy for my mother.Ē


Kingís estate, a Georgia corporation operated as a private company by his children, is known to fight for control of the King brand and has sued media companies that used his ďI Have a DreamĒ speech.


One of the estateís attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. It wasnít immediately clear if the estate planned to ask for a rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


The documents described in court records include a sermon; a statement King made the day after a landmark Supreme Court ruling on segregation; and a handwritten letter to Ballouís mother from civil rights icon Rosa Parks.


After working for King, Ballouís parents went to work at what is now Elizabeth City State University, where Leonard Ballou was as an archivist. Leonard Ballou apparently stored the material in the universityís basement, unbeknownst to anyone, until it was discovered by the university in 2007 and returned to the Ballou family.


The court record says the university contacted Howard Ballou about taking possession of the material because his father was deceased. His mother is alive.


Ballouís lawyer, Robert Gibbs, said Ballouís parents were personal friends of King and the letters, photographs and other items were gifts that rightfully belong to Ballouís family.


Gibbs said Friday that the 5th Circuit ruling clears up any issue of ownership, but heís prepared to fight if the King estate appeals the ruling.


The 5th Circuit panel ďdecided the statute of limitations issue, which does clear up the ownership issue, because the ownership claims they were making should have been made a long time ago,Ē Gibbs said.

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