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Fight Over ML King Jr. Secretary’s Memoir

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) - The estate of a secretary to Dr. Martin Luther King claims in court that an Alabama publisher printed her memoir without permission.

The Estate of Dora McDonald sued New South Books in Federal Court.

McDonald was the Rev. Dr. King's secretary from 1960 through his death in 1968. She met Coretta Scott King at the Atlanta airport to tell her of her husband's assassination on April 4, 1968.

Patricia Latimore sued the Montgomery-based publisher, as sole heir and executrix of McDonald's estate. She claims to be sole owner of the copyright.

"McDonald died in 2007, and her manuscript remained unpublished," the 6-page lawsuit states. "In 2013, NewSouth Books published Ms. McDonald's manuscript as a memoir titled Secretary to a King. As NewSouth Books did not have permission to publish the manuscript, Ms. McDonald's executrix and sole beneficiary, brings this action for copyright infringement and conversion."

During her eight years with King, some of the most turbulent of the civil rights era, McDonald typed his speeches and managed his massive correspondence.

After her death in January 2007, King biographer David Garrow told The Los Angeles Times, "Archivally, I know quite well an awful lot of the letters that people received around the world signed by Dr. Martin Luther King were actually signed by Dora McDonald."

Realizing she had an important story to tell and a dwindling amount of time to tell it, in 2002, at age 76, McDonald began to write the memoir she titled "Secretary to a King: Martin Luther King Jr., the Movement and Me."

She didn't live to see its publication, and according the lawsuit, the book's afterlife had as many twists and turns as a mystery novel.

Latimore claims that after finishing the book, the retired secretary gave a copy of the manuscript to Hill Street Press, a publisher in Athens, Ga.

After McDonald died, Latimore says, she contacted the publisher, directing that all materials related to the book be returned to her after it went to press.

However, "Hill Street Press then went out of business before publishing a word of it, and did not return McDonald's materials to Latimore," according to the complaint.

Three years later, the manuscript wound up in the hands of New South Books.

Latimore says she learned of this after New South contacted, among others, Andrew Young, the pastor and former congressman and Atlanta mayor, a longtime associate of Dr. King.

"In July 2010, NewSouth sent a memo to Andrea Young, Andrew Young, and Constance Curry with a publishing plan, but this memo was not sent to Latimore," the executrix says.

Latimore claims she refused to sign an agreement with New South, and her attorney demanded the manuscript be returned. Despite her refusal to cooperate, New South pressed on with its intention to publish, she says.

In April 2012 she reiterated her demand that McDonald's materials be returned to her, but the book was published anyway, Latimore claims.

"In late 2012 or early 2013, Bernice King provided a copy of 'Secretary to a King' as published by NewSouth to Latimore," she says.

"'Secretary to a King,' as published by NewSouth, is strikingly similar to McDonald's manuscript.

"NewSouth's publication claims a 2012 copyright in favor of the Estate of Dora McDonald.

"In August 2013, Latimore, through counsel, printed the portions of the manuscript that remained in McDonald's personal computer and submitted them for copyright registration."

Latimore seeks disgorgement, return of all materials relating to "Secretary to a King," a permanent injunction barring further publication, and actual and punitive damages for copyright infringement and conversion.

She is represented by Ryan Isenberg of Isenberg & Hewitt, P.C. in Atlanta.

Obituaries published in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times in 2007, said McDonald was born in Greeleyville, S.C. on July 16, 1925, and that she attended high school in Sumter, S.C., before enrolling at South Carolina State College.

She went to work for King at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and followed him to the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Among the highlights of her years with the civil rights leader was traveling with the King family in Oslo when Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The New York Times obituary actually quotes from "Secretary to a King," using the passage to illustrate how exciting McDonald found her job: "After I got into my job and what I was doing - what we were doing - and what the movement meant, I never wanted to be doing anything else," The Times quotes her as writing. "I was a part of something momentous; it was a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week position. ... (T)here was never a time -- and I can say this in all truthfulness, from the time I went to work for him until his death -- that I regretted what I was doing or where I was at that moment," McDonald wrote.

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