MLK Family Wars Over Peace Prize

Roland S. Martin

In his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. thundered from the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

Too bad the two sons and surviving daughter of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King can't heed their father's words and sit down to settle their differences at any table, let alone a courtroom table.

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The latest salvo was fired today when Bernice King issued a blistering, 536-word press release that, if believed, exposes her brothers as nothing but more than quick buck artists willing to sell anything they could get their hands on, including two of what should be the most cherished possessions for the family: Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize and his Bible.

“On January 20, as we observed my father's 85th birthday and The King Holiday, my brothers, Dexter Scott King and Martin Luther King, III, notified me that they want to sell to a private buyer our father's most prized possessions, his Nobel Peace Prize Medal and his personal Bible, which was used by President Barack Obama as he was sworn in for his second term in office and subsequently signed by him," said Bernice in the statement.

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“I am absolutely opposed to the selling of these extremely sacred items and I expressed my opposition to my brothers. Although these items have been under my care and custody for the past few years, they have remained in a safe and secure location since my father’s assassination, and my mother's death in 2006.”

According to Bernice, MLK III and Dexter sued her on January 31 in order to get the artifacts, which could fetch millions for their unique value.

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"The thought of profiting from the sale of the Peace Prize Medal, which my father accepted 50 years ago this year on behalf of the greatest demonstration of peace this nation has ever seen, is spiritually violent, unconscionable, historically negligent, and outright morally reprehensible," Bernice King said. "This is especially true in light of the fact that my father gave away every dime of the Nobel award money to support the civil rights movement."

This is the second time that Dexter and MLK III have tried to sue Bernice.

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While thousands across the country and world marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 2013, lawyers for Dexter and MLK III filed paperwork in Georgia in an attempt to remove Bernice as head of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and for the removal of their father's close lieutenant, Andrew Young, and their cousin, Alveda King (her father, A.D. King, was MLK's brother), from the board o directors.

So while the three King children sat near one another on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in a show of unity, there was tremendous discord behind the scenes.

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In the August lawsuit, Dexter and MLK III even threatened to remove the licensing agreement allowing the King Center to use his name and likeness.

Seriously? How in the world could an institution created in 1968 by their mother, bearing the name of their father, no longer be able to use his name and likeness? How much sense does that make?

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Dexter, the youngest of the King siblings (the eldest, Yolanda, passed away in May 2007 at the age of 51), has always been seen as the one King who would sell his soul if it meant cashing a big paycheck.

Six years ago, Dexter sued Bernice, demanding that she turn over letters written between their mother, Coretta Scott King, and father, after her death in 2006. Dexter, as head of the MLK Estate, demanded ownership of the papers, while Bernice, head of her mom's estate, said some things between their parents should remain private.

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Dexter didn't give a flip about any of that. All he wanted to do was cash the $1.4 million check Penguin gave him for a book deal on the biography of their mother. And if that meant suing MLK III and Bernice, so be it.

Even though the for-profit entity safeguarding the likeness and image of Dr. King, King Inc., is private, it is considered to be a lucrative enterprise.

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MLK III’s motivation is most perplexing. Once an ally of Bernice in their battle against Dexter for a full accounting of the for-profit entity, safeguarding the likeness and image of Dr. King, MLK III has flipped sides and is going full bore against his sister.

Calls to him for comment were not returned.

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The stunning thing is, for all of the good their father was involved in, if you ask his children what they’ve accomplished in life, all they could say is keep plenty of lawyers fat and happy.

Frankly, it is sickening and disgusting to watch these three grown folks spend more time attacking one another than focusing on the three evils their father always cited: poverty, racism and militarism.

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Of the three children, only Bernice seems willing to do anything in the spirit of their mother and father. Several sources close to Bernice say that the constant lawsuits and attacks by her brothers has prevented her from leading the King Center and making it truly relevant in the 21st century.

At the end of the day, it's just sad and shameful to see Dr. King's three living descendants toss away a tremendously rich legacy in the fight for the almighty dollar.

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As Bernice said herself in today's press release: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "MUST be turning in his grave."

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