Family Feud Renews Over MLK's Prized Possessions

The children of Martin Luther King Jr. are embroiled in yet another legal battle — this time, over control of the late civil rights leader's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The children of Martin Luther King, Jr. are embroiled in yet another legal battle. As NPR's Debbie Elliot reports, the fight this time is over control of the late civil rights leader's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

DEBBIE ELLIOT, BYLINE: Bernice King stood today in the pulpit of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

BERNICE KING: Where my father delivered many poignant sermons. It is because I want it understood in no uncertain terms that this is a sacred and a serious matter.

ELLIOT: King took to the pulpit to defend herself against a lawsuit brought by her father's estate, which is chaired by her brother, Martin Luther King, III. The suit accuses Bernice King of secreting and sequestering her father's Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize and asks the Georgia court to force her to relinquish the property to the estate.

Bernice King says her siblings told her last month why they want the items.

KING: My brothers Dexter Scott King and Martin Luther King, III notified me that they want to sell our father's most prized possessions: his personal travelling Bible and Nobel Peace Prize awarded 50 years ago this year.

ELLIOT: The lawsuit says nothing about selling the property in question. Martin Luther King, III and the attorney representing the MLK estate declined to speak with NPR. Bernice King says she will fight to protect the artifacts in her possession.

KING: I take this strong position for my father because Daddy is not here to say himself: my Bible and my medals are never to be sold.

RALPH LUKER: It's a sad spectacle.

ELLIOT: Historian Ralph Luker is co-editor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. papers.

LUKER: This is actually just another episode in a long term struggle within the family for control of King's legacy.

ELLIOT: Since Coretta Scott King died in 2006, the children have been in and out of court. Most recently, the estate, controlled by Martin Luther King, III and Dexter King, sued the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change of which Bernice King is CEO. Luker says part of the problem is that when King was assassinated in 1968, he left no will.

Remaining members of King's inner circle are troubled by the public legal battles. Former Atlanta mayor Ambassador Andrew Young had this to say on local television station WXIA.

ANDREW YOUNG: I don't know what they're thinking and I think that they sue too quick.

ELLIOT: Bernice King rejects the notion that this is a sibling rivalry and says she's just trying to protect the King birthright. Debbie Elliot, NPR News.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: