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Historian: Squabble Among MLK Siblings Is About 'Dollar Value of King's Legacy'

The children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are in a legal battle over possession of their father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

The Rev. Bernice King speaks at a recent news conference about a legal battle with her brothers over possession of their father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize. Credit: Screenshot from CNN video
The Rev. Bernice King speaks at a recent news conference about a legal battle with her brothers over possession of their father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize. Credit: Screenshot from CNN video

The children of Martin Luther King Jr. are squabbling over possession over the civil rights icon's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize, prompting one historian to accuse them all of acting out of greed.

King's estate is run by his two sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King. The estate's lawyers on Jan. 31 asked a judge to order their sister, the Rev. Bernice King, to surrender the items, reports the Associated Press. She says they want to sell or lease the items; attorneys for the men have not commented on their plans.

At a news conference from the pulpit of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where her father and grandfather preached, Bernice King portrayed herself as the true protector of the slain civil rights leader’s accomplishments, according to an AP story.

"Our father must be turning in his grave," she said in a CNN story. "While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them is extremely troubling. Not only am I appalled and utterly ashamed, I am frankly disappointed that they would even entertain the thought of selling these precious items. It reveals a desperation beyond comprehension."

Bernice King said today that she would surrender her father’s Nobel Peace Prize and Bible until a court decides whether or not her brothers should be allowed to sell them.

“I have been led by the Holy Spirit to comply with the court order,” Bernice King said in an Atlanta Journal-Constiution story. “This is not a setback, but an opportunity for my brothers to do what their conscience says is right.”

A lawyer for the King estate, which is controlled by Dexter and Martin III, sent the AP a copy of a 1995 agreement among the siblings in which they signed over the rights to many items to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc.

Bernice has acknowledged the validity of the 1995 agreement, but is now refusing to hand over the Bible and medal, the brothers said in court papers. A judge wants to place the items in a safe deposit box and have the courts hold the keys to it.

David J. Garrow, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Martin Luther King Jr., said the King siblings are driven by greed. "It's been about maximizing the dollar value of Dr. King's legacy."

King’s Bible and other artifacts should be donated to a museum, the historian said.

The King children shared equally in the proceeds from a 2006 auction of 10,000 documents from their family collection that brought in $32 million.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 while appearing in support of striking sanitation workers. His widow, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006.

Since Coretta’s death, the siblings have sued one another over finances. 

Bernice King and Martin Luther King III sued Dexter King in 2008, accusing him of converting "substantial funds from the estate's financial account at Bank of America" for his own use. They later agreed to a settlement and avoided a public trial, CNN said.

David Brown March 07, 2014 at 08:28 AM
I thought the use of foul language violated Patch's Terms of Use. Apparently, it doesn't. It appears Patch doesn't remove comments containing offensive language.
Reality March 07, 2014 at 08:54 AM
Greedy ,all 3 of them. They should get involved in their communities and give back like their Dad would want. Help bring down the unwed single mom rate . Help end poverty, educate teens , teach young males to wait to be Dads but when they are Dads, perhaps try marriage and stick around to raise your children versus asking society . And if you are still bored,resist the urge to go to court by working out and eating better yourselves. Looks like you sure are not short on money for food!
fmcogic March 07, 2014 at 10:36 AM
During their entire life these kids have not had to really work for themselves. Thanks to their parents, they have been able to live middle to upper class lives between California and here in Atlanta. Now that the money is running thin and no one seems to be as impressed with their pedigree, they want to try and sell off their father's things. Those items should be in a museum and none of them should have the right to cash in on their late father's legacy. Furthermore, this whole thing about the Holy Spirit leading Bernice to comply, please, that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. You comply or you go to jail and its that simple! Perhaps I sound a little cynical but some time ago I worked for the King family and these kids.....man.....you guys just don't' know.
Lisa G March 07, 2014 at 10:38 AM
Marty and Dexter should consider gettng real, income paying jobs. Not a good look sons.
Amanda March 10, 2014 at 06:07 PM
This spat is so tacky that I can't believe they are doing this to their deceased father. MLK stood for something. He worked very hard to help his people rise our of despair and be equal amont all men. Bernice is doing the right thing. It's obvious that this is about Dexter and Martin the third needing money. That money could help you out for awhile, but, what are you going to do with yourself when you have squandered it away by buying fancy materialistic things. I think that you all need to get a job.

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