Martin Luther King Family Feud over Sale of ‘Sacred’ Nobel Peace Medal

Peter Foster, Telegraph, January 12, 2015

A bitter family feud between the surviving children of Martin Luther King Jr is to reach court in the US on Tuesday when a judge will rule over the ownership of the civil rights leader’s travelling bible and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal.

The two items, which are estimated to worth up to $10m [£6m], are at the centre of a long-running dispute between Dr King’s daughter, Bernice, and his two sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King, who reportedly want to put them up for private sale.

The medal and the travelling bible, which was last seen in public in January 2013 when it was used to swear in President Barack Obama for his second term in office, are considered among two of the most important and valuable artefacts from the 1960s civil rights movement.

Last year, Bernice King, a pastor who still preaches at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where her father and grandfather preached, was forced to hand over the bible and medal into the custody of a court in Atlanta pending the resolution of the suit.

Ms King, who says she inherited the bible and medal from her late mother, Coretta Scott King, said she was “appalled and utterly ashamed” at her brothers’ desire to sell items that she considered “sacred” to their father’s memory.

“These items should never be sold to any person, as I say it, or any institution, because they’re sacred,” she said when giving an emotional statement in February last year. “I take this strong position for my father because Daddy is not here to say himself: ‘My Bible and medals are never to be sold.'”

On Tuesday, a judge will decide whether the items should be handed over to the brothers, who control the Martin Luther King Jr estate, or whether the case should go to a full trial.

The legal dispute goes back to January 2014 when the board of the King estate–of which Bernice is a member–voted to order her to hand over the bible and medal. When she refused, the two brothers sued. The estate’s lawyers have not responded to requests for comment.

Experts said the market value of such unique items was difficult to gauge, but could increase significantly if they were put up for sale privately.

Two separate appraisers, Leila Dunbar and Clive Howe, told the Associated Press they would expect the Bible to sell for between $200,000 and $1m, with the medal fetching between $5m and $10m, and possibly more, given Dr King’s place in history.

King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 after helping lead the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, which transformed him into a nationally recognised civil rights leader. The following year he organised the march from Selma to Montgomery, which is depicted in the recently released film Selma. Steven Spielberg is also producing a new biopic of King.

This is not the first time the estate has considered selling King’s property. In 2006, the estate aimed to auction his personal papers for as much as $30 million, but a group of philanthropists and business leaders stepped in, buying the documents for an undisclosed sum and donating them to King’s alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Bernice King and Martin Luther King III had previously sued their brother, Dexter King, contending that he had improperly taken money from the estate of their late mother, Coretta Scott King, and transferred it to his own company. That lawsuit was quietly settled before trial.

Yolanda King, the eldest of Dr King’s children, who was often seen as a peacemaker among the children, collapsed and died suddenly in May 2007 at the age of 51.


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