Martin Luther King’s children go to court over Bible, Nobel Peace Prize

Dexter King, left, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, shown at a 2006 tribute to their mother, Coretta Scott King, are now in a court dispute over the Bible and Nobel Peace Prize belonging to their father, Martin Luther King Jr.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Three children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have gone to court over control of their father’s Bible and Nobel Peace Prize. A judge failed to issue a ruling on the dispute Tuesday.

Last year, brothers Dexter King and Martin Luther King III compelled their sister Bernice to hand over the Nobel Peace Prize medallion and their father’s Bible, one he carried with him while fighting for civil rights.

Bernice King contends that her brothers want to sell the items, while she does not. “There is no justification for selling either of these sacred items,” she wrote in a 2014 statement. “They are priceless and should never be exchanged for money in the marketplace. While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them ... reveals a desperation beyond comprehension.”

King left no will when he was assassinated in 1968. The three siblings, who share ownership of his estate, have been tied up in a number of legal battles since the death of their mother, Coretta Scott King, in 2006. The eldest King daughter, Yolanda, died in 2007.


Despite the family’s appearances in court, they insist they remain collegial. “I would respectfully challenge the notion that we’re fighting,” brother Dexter told Atlanta television station WXIA on Tuesday. “I think we have a legal system in our society and country to deal with disputes that cannot be solved otherwise. The reality is that the items belong to the corporation. All of us, as original heirs of Martin Luther King Jr., assigned our rights and inheritance to this corporation. And one individual decided to sequester these items.”

Papers belonging to King, whose birthday will be celebrated Monday, are highly valued. A lot of 10,000 King items, including drafts of the “I Have a Dream” speech, were set to be auctioned in 2006 for as much as $30 million. (The sale, to anonymous bidders, closed for an undisclosed amount). Those materials are now housed at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

King’s “traveling bible,” which is currently under dispute, was one of two on which President Obama was sworn in during his 2013 inauguration, adding to its value. King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize is estimated to be worth $5 million to $10 million.

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