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King siblings feud deepens over civil rights leader’s most prized assets

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My brothers want to sell my father’s Nobel Peace Prize, his bible: ‘Not on my watch’ –Bernice A. King

ATLANTA—In a 20-minute public address, Bernice A. King, 51, set the record straight on why she’s battling her two brothers, Martin Luther King III, 56, and Dexter King, 53, in court for trying to sell their father’s Nobel Peace Prize and his Bible.

 

Bernice King vowed to do everything in her power to keep her father’s possessions safe, saying the medal and bible would not be sold: “Not on my watch.” She said she is disassociating herself with her brothers, despite her love for them.

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“From this point on, I would appreciate if you would refrain from grouping me with my brothers. They are my brothers. I do love them, but we are different people, different perspectives and different positions,” King said.

 

The friction, which has gone on for years between the three children of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., re-ignited this week after Bernice King made it publicly known that her brothers had filed a lawsuit against her to get the Nobel Peace Prize and the Bible.  She said her brothers notified her on Jan. 20, the King Holiday and the observance of her father’s 85th birthday, that they wanted her to relinquish the medals and Bible that President Barack Obama used when he was sworn into office for his second term. Bernice King won’t say exactly where the items are, only that they are safe.

 

“I take this strong position for my father because Daddy is not here to say himself ‘My bible and my medals are never to be sold—not to an institution or even a person,’ ” Bernice King said during her address on Feb. 6 at Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta.

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King said she held her address at Ebenezer because of its historic significance. It was the place where her father preached many sermons.

 

“I want it understood in no uncertain terms that this is a sacred and a serious matter as I share my position with you,” she said.

 

King said the fight is not about money, but about principle.

 

Earlier in the week, Bernice King rebuked her brothers’ decision to sell the sacred items, saying that her father must be “turning in his grave.”

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1064. At age 35, he was the youngest man to have received the honor.  

 

“In my opinion, there is no justificationfor selling either of these sacred items. They are priceless and should never be exchanged for money in the marketplace,” King said. “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.”    

 

Martin King III is chairman of the estate’s board. He and Dexter King control the estate of their father. Bernice King is CEO of the King Center.

 

The two brothers filed the suit against Bernice King in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta on Jan. 31. The complaint came one day after Dexter King’s birthday, which is also the same day that the siblings’ mother, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006. Coretta Scott King succumbed to complications from ovarian cancer after a stroke and a mild heart attack. A year after Coretta Scott King die, the oldest of the Kings’ four children, Yolanda “Yoki” King, died at age 51 of heart problems.

 

In addition to the recent complaint filed, the King estate is also embroiled in a legal battle with the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, where Bernice King is CEO. On Aug. 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the estate filed a complaint asking a judge to stop the King Center from using Martin Luther King Jr.'s image, likeness and memorabilia. The complaint said materials licensed to the center weren’t being properly cared for. Bernice King is still battling that suit.

 

The King siblings have been in and out of court for the last five years over their father’s estate. In 2009, the siblings took 15 hours to reach a settlement regarding who would run King Inc., the corporation that controls the use of their father's intellectual property. That deal temporarily placed a third party in charge.  Bernice and Martin had sued Dexter, saying he was running the corporation and making financial decisions without any input from them. The trio has also fought over selling love letters that their father wrote their mother. 

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