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.