Harry Belafonte has decided to auction off some papers that were handwritten by his friend, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – including an outline for his first speech condemning the Vietnam War.
Sotheby’s will offer the document for sale Thursday along with two others: the scribbled notes for a speech King planned to deliver in Memphis, Tenn., three days after he was assassinated and a letter of condolence from President Lyndon B. Johnson to King’s widow, reports the Associated Press.
Belafonte, an early disciple of King and his host on King’s visits to New York, says he is putting the treasured items up for sale because “I am at the end of my life — I will be 82 shortly — and there are a lot of causes I believe in for which resources are not available, and there is a need to redistribute those resources.”
The pre-sale estimate for the three documents is set at $750,000 to $1.13 million, with the Vietnam speech valued at $500,000 to $800,000.
King wrote the first draft of his Vietnam speech in ink on three sheets from a yellow legal pad and left it behind at Belafonte’s apartment when he went to Los Angeles to deliver the finished remarks on Feb. 25, 1967, before a hotel crowd of Hollywood celebrities and four U.S. senators who also had denounced the war.
The speech, titled The Casualties of the War in Vietnam, cited, along with military and civilian victims, a loss of moral principle, resources diverted from the fight for civil rights and the war’s effect in alienating other nations from the United States.
The Memphis notes, found in King’s pocket after he was gunned down April 4, 1968, were given by Coretta Scott King to the late Stan Levison, a close friend who then gave them to Belafonte. In the notes, King praises the city’s sanitation workers for striking against “starvation wages” — the cause that had brought him to Memphis. “What does it profit to be able to eat in an integrated restaurant and not make enough money to take the wife out?” he asks.
Johnson’s letter of condolence tells Mrs. King that the “full powers of local and federal authority” had been committed to finding her husband’s killer, and “we will overcome this calamity and continue the work of justice and love that is Martin Luther King’s legacy.” She gave the letter to Belafonte after the funeral service, where he stood at her side.