Martin Luther King Jr.'s children in court over his Bible, Nobel Prize

Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is being sued by her father's estate to retrieve his Bible and Nobel Peace Prize medal.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

An ugly family battle over the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize medal is to play out in an Atlanta courtroom this week.

As “Selma” — the movie featuring the legendary civil rights leader’s life — earns rave reviews and Oscar buzz, King’s children have been locked in another legal battle with one another.

King’s estate, controlled by sons Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, is suing daughter Bernice King to retrieve the Bible and the medal, which are in her possession, so the estate can potentially sell them to a private buyer.

Both sides have filed motions for a summary judgment, and a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. If the judge does not rule for either side, or if the siblings do not reach a settlement, the case could go to trial in February.

The siblings and their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.


At stake are two of King’s most prized possessions, according to Bernice King.

King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 after helping lead the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., and becoming a nationally recognized civil rights leader. A year later, while fighting for passage of the Voting Rights Act, King helped organize the march from Selma to Montgomery that is depicted in the movie “Selma.”

King’s Bible, tattered from wear, was used in the 2013 inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, who also signed the book. (Obama also used the Lincoln Bible in 2013, the one he used in his first inauguration in 2009.)

A year later, in January 2014, the King estate’s board — of which Bernice King is a member — voted to order her to hand over both the Bible and the Nobel medal. When she did not, the estate sued her in Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court.

In a 2014 response, Bernice King quoted Scripture and criticized her brothers.

“There is no justification for selling either of these sacred items. They are priceless and should never be exchanged for money in the marketplace,” she said in a statement. “While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them ... reveals a desperation beyond comprehension.”

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.

Another daughter, Yolanda, died in 2007 at 51.

Twitter: @mattdpearce