ATLANTA — Martin Luther King Jr.’s children are locked in another legal battle, this time over the civil rights icon’s Nobel Peace Prize and his personal Bible.
The complaint against Bernice King was filed Friday in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta by her father’s estate, which is controlled by her brothers, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King. Bernice King said in a statement Tuesday that her brothers want to sell the Bible and medal to a private buyer and that she opposes that.
King’s heirs agreed in 1995 to sign over their rights to many items they inherited from their father to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., the complaint says. Bernice King has acknowledged the validity of that agreement but has refused to turn over her father’s “traveling” Bible and Nobel Peace Prize medal, the complaint says.
Bernice King said in her statement that their father “must be turning in his grave” at the idea of selling his medal and Bible, which she said were among his most prized possessions. President Obama used the Bible for his oath of office when he was sworn in for his second term last year.
“While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them is extremely troubling,” she said. “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.”
The complaint does not mention any intention to sell the items, and the estate’s lawyers did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment. The estate is asking that a judge force Bernice King to relinquish the items and pay legal fees in the matter.
The estate is embroiled in a separate battle with the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, where Bernice King is the CEO. On Aug. 28 – the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech – the estate asked a judge to stop the King Center from using his image, likeness and memorabilia. The complaint said materials licensed to the King Center by the estate weren’t being properly cared for.
King was assassinated in Memphis in April 1968. His wife, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006 and Yolanda King, the Kings’ eldest child, died in 2007. That left the three remaining siblings as the sole shareholders and directors of their father’s estate, but their relationship deteriorated over legal battles.
Bernice King and Martin Luther King III sued Dexter King in 2008 to force him to open the books of their father’s estate. The lawsuit claimed Dexter King, the estate’s administrator, had refused to provide documents concerning the estate’s operations and that he had shut them out of decisions.
The siblings avoided a public jury trial over their legal feud by agreeing to a settlement in October 2009 and a judge in March 2010 dismissed most of the remaining legal claims in the dispute between them. All three siblings said at the time that they looked forward to mending the rifts and that significant progress had been made with the settlement.