Martin Luther King’s Children Battling over Estate

Kate Brumback, Big Story, February 7, 2014

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.


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.


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.”


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