BOSTON -- A Pulitzer Prize-winning Maryland author testified yesterday that an archivist in Atlanta asked him several years ago to write a letter denouncing the condition of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. collection at Boston University as being "substandard," but that he refused.
"I didn't think, in good conscience, it was true," said Taylor Branch of Baltimore, author of "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63."
Mr. Branch was the first defense witness called by BU in an
eight-day-old trial in Suffolk Superior Court over ownership of the 83,000 personal papers Dr. King deposited with the university.
Coretta Scott King is suing the university to reclaim the papers. She wants to consolidate them with the remainder of her husband's collection at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, which she runs.
After completing his testimony yesterday, Mr. Branch said he agreed to testify as a defense witness primarily because he is worried about the potential consequences for scholars if all the papers are held by the center in Atlanta.
"This is about control," Mr. Branch asserted outside the courtroom. "The King Center is mostly about promoting the legacy of Dr. King through them, and that means their interpretation of it. . . . But people should be concerned about the monopoly control of historical materials if it's used to control how it's presented to the world."
Mr. Branch said the center's archivist, Louise Cook, asked him to write the letter.