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Martin Luther King's children battling over estate

King Memorial
ATLANTA (AP) - Facing the latest in a string of legal battles with her brothers, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. is seeking to portray herself as the true heir to her father's legacy.

Bernice King has been outspoken this week in her opposition to what she said is a plan by her brothers, Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, to sell their father's Nobel Peace Prize medal and personal traveling Bible. Bernice has possession of both items, and her brothers asked a judge last week to order her to turn them over.

"I take this strong position for my father because Daddy is not here to say for himself, 'My Bible and my medals are not to be sold,'" she said at a news conference Thursday from the pulpit of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where her father and grandfather were pastors.

"When the record books are written, let it be said that there was at least one heir who tried to further the legacy," she later added.

King's heirs agreed in 1995 to sign over rights for many inherited items to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., the brothers' complaint filed in a court in Atlanta says. Bernice King has repeatedly acknowledged the validity of that agreement, but is now refusing to hand over the Bible and medal, the complaint says.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. His widow, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006.

The King children have profited from their father's legacy. In 2006, Sotheby's auctioned off 10,000 documents from their collection for $32 million, with the siblings receiving equal shares of the money.

They also haven't shied from legal battles that push their family disputes into the public eye - struggles that many believe have tarnished the family name.

David J. Garrow, a historian whose book "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference" won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize, said he wasn't "surprised in the slightest" to hear about the latest fight among the King heirs.

"The agenda has always been greed," Garrow said. "It's been about maximizing the dollar value of Dr. King's legacy."

While their mother was alive, the King children had periods of not speaking to each other, but they mostly kept disagreements to themselves. After their mother died in January 2006, it was the oldest daughter, Yolanda, who held the siblings together. But when Yolanda died in May 2007, that glue was gone.

Just over a year after Yolanda's death, the long-simmering dispute between the three remaining children boiled over, with three lawsuits filed between the siblings in as many months. The disputes between the three have mostly involved aspects of control of their parents' legacy, and most often in the past, the fights pitted Bernice and Martin against Dexter.

Bernice said she's aware that many people may roll their eyes and say, "Here the King children go again." But this time is different, she said. These two items are sacred and reflect the very essence of their father: a man of God and a champion of peaceful protest.

In response to repeated emails and calls, a lawyer for the King estate, which is controlled by Dexter and Martin III, sent a copy of the 1995 agreement among the siblings. The lawyer offered no comment.

Garrow, the historian, said King's Bible should go to a museum or somewhere it can be seen by everyone.

"The fundamental bottom line here is that the King children have no clue what their father's legacy really means," the historian said. "Martin Luther King Jr. was the most unselfish, ungreedy person who ever lived."

Bernice said she loves her brothers and cannot explain why she disagrees with them on certain issues. Despite public opinion, she said, they do not take legal action against each other lightly and use it only as a last resort.

She said she hopes they will be able to reconcile in the future and offered an apology to her parents, adding, "I believe that one day we will set the example you hoped we would provide."

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s lieutenants and a family friend, supports Bernice in the latest disagreement. Bernice said Lowery wasn't able to make it to the news conference, but she read a statement he sent her.

"I'm deeply disturbed by the thought of selling Martin's Bible and Peace Prize," the statement said. "I sincerely hope that they, his children, will find a way to resolve their differences and address their problems without the thought of putting Martin's Bible or Peace Prize for sale."

The Rev. C.T. Vivian also backs Bernice, joining about three dozen other supporters at the news conference. A civil rights leader, Vivian last year was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the U.S. bestows on civilians. He said he doesn't believe the children can diminish the great deeds of their father.

"It doesn't affect the legacy of their father. It affects the legacy of them," he said. "That's what I think the public has to see. This is not Martin. This not about Martin King. This is about them."

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WELCOME BACK BIL February 07 2014 at 12:17 PM

No surprise here.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
GlamGramLinda February 07 2014 at 11:29 AM

I agree 100% with Bernice. Her Father's Bible and Noble Peace Prize should not be sold.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
duffy847 February 07 2014 at 11:26 AM

A Bible and the Nobel Peace Prize Medal........items that most families would cherish through the ages,and the brothers want to sell them?? How low and ignorant can they be?? I have 1 item of my father's.a ring created and made at Dachau after it's liberation by American forces. My Dad was

Flag Reply +12 rate up
c.mertz February 07 2014 at 11:19 AM

Obviously MLK's children also "Have a dream."

Flag Reply +4 rate up
motogo3 February 07 2014 at 11:17 AM

I don't think they should sell these items. They should either be displayed at The Martin Luther King Historical Site, or the Smithsonian for everyone to see.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
Zulma motogo3 February 07 2014 at 11:28 AM

I agree. MLK's legacy is for all to share. Money was not important to MLK, and it should not be important to his children. MLK belongs to America just as G. Washington and the founding fathers. He should be respected and loved by his children . Big Z in Pa.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
neeg Zulma February 07 2014 at 12:10 PM

very smart statement, I agree 100%

Flag +1 rate up
BARB February 07 2014 at 11:17 AM

Bet the 'Dream' he had didn't include his kids fighting over his estate like a bunch of jackals.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
1 reply
Zulma BARB February 07 2014 at 11:30 AM

This "Dream" has turned into a nightmare. What would MLK say today seeing what his children are doing? Big Z

Flag Reply +3 rate up
nkowalak February 07 2014 at 11:11 AM

This is every parents nightmare. Death is hard enough but when your kids start to fight, it's just as people say, "spend it now, if you don't your kids will fight over what is left." And that's not what parents want them to do.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Darlene J H February 07 2014 at 11:03 AM

It is so sad to see the siblings of Dr. King, whose legacy exemplifies love, peace and harmony not live up to what their father stood for. As Dr. king's children, they should be first to actively live his dream. Being a man held in such high esteem and died for what he believed in, his children are not respecting what their father fought so hard to accomplish. That Bible and Peace Prize are priceless and should be cherished and kept in the family. How could they even think about selling a bible, I am sure was sentimental to their dad, and used to swear in the first Black President. I pray they will reconcile their differences and put their father's legacy, moral character and dream before GREED.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
jle615 February 07 2014 at 11:02 AM

Blood is thicker than water, but maybe not currency green

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
Davis10Oregon1 jle615 February 07 2014 at 11:39 AM

On point ! { Blood is thicker than water, but maybe not currency green.} I, would wonder if either of these three highly educated siblings can you see the light at the end of the tunnel . Obviously, the revelation remains hidden . Has the agenda always been about M - O - N - E - Y ? The answer is out there and remains intact .

Flag Reply 0 rate up
nacontc February 07 2014 at 11:38 AM

They say death always brings out the best and worst in people. I am not to judge but it appears they blew through the money they already got and now they want more.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
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