King Family Feud

Family members engaged in heated legal dispute

By Stan Washington | 2/7/2014, 9:46 a.m.
This time the sons, Dexter and Martin King III on behalf of the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. are ...
Bernice King in a press conference Thursday February 6, 2014 stated she is not with her brothers on the sale of her late father's belongings. CNN photo.

Known more for their lawsuits than following in their parents’ footsteps of fighting for civil and human rights, the King children are headed back to court over prized items of their father, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This time the sons, Dexter and Martin King III on behalf of the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. are suing their sister Bernice King for possession of their father’s Nobel Peace Prize Medal and his family Bible which was used by President Baraka Obama when he was sworn in for a second term.

The legal dispute came to light when Bernice King, CEO of The Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent and Social Change (The King Center) Tuesday released a statement expressing her frustrations over their attempt to sell the items to a private collector.

King said her brothers informed her of their intentions on January 20, as they were observing their father’s 85th birthday and The King Holiday.

“I am absolutely opposed to the selling of these extremely sacred items and I expressed my opposition to my brothers,” King said.

The youngest of the three surviving King children, Bernice has been quiet on past legal confrontations her brothers have waged in against one another and most recently against longtime family friends activist Harry Belafonte and former UN ambassador Andrew Young.

Belafonte’s dispute involves the rightful ownership of some King documents. Young, a member of The King Center board was sued after his foundation used some film footage in a documentary that includes himself and Rev. King Jr.

That lawsuit filed on August 28 the day of the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington by the estate where Dexter is chairman and Martin III is president/CEO also asks that The King Center refrain from using M.L. King’s image and likeness unless certain conditions are met. One of the conditions is that Young be removed from the board of the center.

Bernice King did not publicly respond to the lawsuit at that time, but Young did when asked about it by the Associated Press. “The question is whose legacy is it? And I agree that it’s their legacy, and that the copyright images of their father need to be protected by them, but I also feel that I’m doing the same thing for nothing and I will not give up my right to the legacy for their right to the legacy,’’ said Young, a former lieutenant of Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement. .

In happier times, former Ambassador Andrew Young is greeted by Martin L. King III. Photo by Moses.

In happier times, former Ambassador Andrew Young is greeted by Martin L. King III. Photo by Moses.

“They said I infringed on their copyright. Well, I don’t think so, because I think it was my right -it’s mine also,’’ Young said.

Young is currently traveling and was not available for comment on the latest lawsuit.

This current lawsuit was apparently too much for Bernice and she went public issuing a statement. A news conference was planned for Thursday morning at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where her father and grandfather once pastored. (The Atlanta Voice is headed to print on Thursday.)

“While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them is extremely troubling,” she stated. “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.”

“Our father must be turning over in his grave,” she added.

The much sought after items have been in the care and possession of Bernice King since their mother’s death in 2006.

When she failed to transfer the items to another location at their request, the brothers filed a lawsuit January 31 (Civil Action No 2014cv241929) to force her to turn over the items, King stated.

King stated that she has no desire to be in court or in a public fight with her brothers over the items.

“Our energy should be focused on the business of advancing his (their father) teachings in the world,” she said. “Nonetheless, some actions are sacrilegious and some things are not for sale no matter the circumstances, including my daddy’s Bible and Nobel Peace Prize Medal. Parting with this priceless memorabilia should not be an option.”

The lawyers for the estate had not release a statement by our deadline.