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Silber Defends Keeping King Papers at Boston University

By Christopher B. Daly
The Washington Post


Boston University President John Silber testified Monday he never saw evidence that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. changed his mind after giving some of his papers to the school in the mid-1960s.

In fact, Silber said he believed that he had nearly reached agreement with King's widow, Coretta Scott King, to gather all of the slain civil rights leader's papers at BU in exchange for giving her a complete set of photocopies.

Coretta King is suing BU for the return of about 83,000 documents that her husband deposited at the school in 1964 and 1965. She has said that they belong to her husband's estate and that she wants to consolidate them with the bulk of his papers at the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta, his hometown.

The university said King gave the school the papers and planned to donate the rest. BU's lawyers have emphasized a 1964 letter from King and a news conference King and his wife attended that year in Boston marking the first deposit of his papers.

Testifying before a jury in Suffolk County Superior Court, Silber said he believed that Coretta King changed her mind and was pursuing her own interest in having the papers deposited in the King Center, which she runs.

"I always thought it was important to distinguish between what he wanted and what she wanted," Silber said.

"Despite the claim that he changed his mind, we don't have the slightest shred of evidence from him that he changed his mind," Silber testified. "In the absence of any evidence to that effect, I feel morally obligated ... to do what he asked us to do."

Coretta King, who was not present Monday, testified last week that when she met with Silber in his office in 1985 to discuss the matter, he turned "hostile" and vowed to hold on to the papers.

Monday, Silber denied that he was hostile. He said Coretta King appeared "very agitated and upset" when he presented the 1964 letter, and she broke off the conversation.

Judge Barbara Rouse told jurors that she plans to consider several legal motions Tuesday and that they should return Wednesday for closing arguments.