Maude Ballou was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal secretary when he led the Montgomery Improvement Association in Alabama. They worked together for several years, and Ms. Ballou helped Dr. King establish his Southern Christian Leadership Conference office in Atlanta in 1960.
The two maintained a trusting professional relationship; a handwritten inscription on a book authored by Dr. King reads "To my dear friends Maude and Leonard, whose friendship I will always cherish very deeply." Leonard is Maude's late husband.
During her employment, Ms. Ballou wrote letters on Dr. King's behalf, and he also corresponded with her through letters at times.
Our Howard Ballou spoke proudly of his mother as he reported on President Barack Obama's inauguration. "There's one woman I'm particularly happy did get a chance to see that day. She's featured in this edition of Portico magazine. She was Dr. Martin Luther King's first secretary with the Montgomery Improvement Association. Her name is Maude Ballou. I like to call her mom," he said.
In 2007, some of the correspondence, along with transcripts of Dr. King's sermons and other documents, were discovered in storage at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, where Maude and Leonard Ballou worked. The family of Dr. King says Howard Ballou has ownership of those documents now. According to the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Jackson, the property is wrongfully detained by Mr. Ballou, and there's no dispute the documents are Dr. King's property.
Mr. Ballou's attorney, Robert Gibbs, says he was contacted in July by lawyers for the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., a private company owned by the children of the civil rights icon. But Gibbs says there was no negotiation about giving the items back. "I can tell you there are some things similar to what's described in that lawsuit that are in Ms. Ballou's possession. But these are her documents. We're going to do whatever we can to make sure they remain her documents," Gibbs says.
WLBT News has contacted the Jackson-based attorneys for the King Estate, and we are awaiting their response.
Copyright 2011 WLBT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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