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Bernice King hands over MLK’s Bible and Peace Prize

By Stan Washington | 3/14/2014, 10:51 a.m.
Elder Bernice King addresses reporters with supporters Rev. Willie Bolden and Rev. Timothy McDonald. Photo by Stan Washington.
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Bernice King Press Conference

Bernice King, CEO of The King Center holds a news conference at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to ask her brothers Dexter and Martin III to change their minds about selling their father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize. The trial on who will finally possess the artifacts will be held starting Sept. 29.

Bernice King, CEO of The King Center holds a news conference at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to ask her brothers Dexter and Martin III to change their minds about selling their father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize. The trial on who will finally possess the artifacts will be held starting Sept. 29.

Bernice King’s passionate plea last Thursday for one of her brothers to change their vote about auctioning off their father’s Nobel Peace Prize and Bible fell on deaf ears.

The youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday turned over her father’s traveling Bible and his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize to be placed in a safe deposit box where they will be held until the dispute by the siblings is settled.

The case will be heard in Fulton Superior Court starting on Sept. 29. Judge Robert McBurney will make a final ruling at that time on whether or not the brothers can sell the items.

According to attorney William Hill, who represents Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, the meeting on Monday was over within five minutes. Lawyers for the family estate file a lawsuit on Jan. 31 demanding that Bernice to turn over the items.

Bernice had not made any public comments by our Thursday press deadline. But on last week at a press conference in the sanctuary of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, King stood with a number of civil rights and political leaders asking her brothers not to sell the items and for any potential collectors to not buy them.

"I implore you to consider the magnitude of this moment in history and how you want your individual legacies to be defined,’’ Bernice said.

Bernice said some people had urged her to refuse to hand over the Bible and Nobel Peace Prize and to go to jail instead. But she said she will comply with the judge’s order.

"It is, deep in my soul, difficult to place what my father described as precious heirlooms under the custody of the government, even if only for a season,’’ she said. "Yet, I recognize that justice and righteousness are not always aligned, and there is often a disconnect between God’s law and man’s law.’’

The estate’s lawyers have said the Bible and peace prize medal belong to the estate under a 1995 agreement in which King’s heirs signed over their rights to many items they inherited from him. The three surviving King children are all board members of the estate, and they held a special board meeting in late January to vote on a proposed sale of the Bible and peace prize, estate lawyer William Hill said at the hearing last month. They voted 2-1 in favor of the sale, with Bernice being the dissenting vote, Hill said.

The brothers have not made any public comments concerning the artifacts or the lawsuit.

Bernice also expressed her disappointed at what she calls the news media misleading the public into thinking that “all of the King children” were only interested in money.

“If that was the case then I could have just taken my cut and kept quiet,” she said.

She added that she still “loves her brothers dearly” but she strongly disagrees with their decision to auction off or lease the items.

“We have lost a sense of what is scared in this world,” she said. “These two artifacts are too scared to sell or be bought under any circumstances.”

The church elder said this is the beginning of a movement to reclaim and rediscover what is scared in our society.

Among those joining Bernice at the news conference were Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, civil rights veterans Rev. Willie Bolden and Rev. Timothy McDonald, Elisabeth Omilami, president of Hosea Feeds the Hungry and the daughter of the late Rev. Hosea Williams.

Kate Brumback of the Associated Press also contributed to this article.

Follow Stan Washington, The Atlanta Voice executive editor at @StanWashington.