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Martin Luther King's daughter defiant after estate sues for Bible, Nobel prize

By Jason Hanna, CNN
updated 4:33 PM EST, Thu February 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The civil rights leader's estate filed a complaint to force Bernice King to turn over the items
  • She says her brothers want them to sell them
  • "Not on my watch," she says
  • The siblings have sued and countersued one another, including 2008 filing

(CNN) -- The daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said Thursday that her brothers won't take King's Nobel Peace Prize and traveling Bible from her without a fight.

Bernice King alleges her brothers Dexter King and Martin Luther King III want to sell the objects, and she told reporters that she won't stand by to let it happen.

The slain civil rights icon's estate -- controlled by his sons -- filed a complaint in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta last week to force Bernice King to turn over the items.

"Not on my watch," she said at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father preached.

And to anyone who would shake their head at yet another court battle between the King siblings, Bernice has a message:

"I would appreciate it if you would refrain from grouping me with my brothers," she said. "They are my brothers, and I do love them. But we are different people, different perspective and different positions. And that should be respected."

The complaint filed Friday says that King's heirs agreed in 1995 to give up their inheritance to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., but that Bernice King has "secreted and sequestered" the items in question.

The estate wants the civil rights leader's 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and his traveling Bible, which was used by President Barack Obama when he was sworn in for his second term.

Bernice King said Thursday that her brothers told her on January 20 that they wanted the items so they could sell them.

The complaint does not mention the possibility of a sale, and CNN's attempts to contact the King brothers have been unsuccessful.

"I stand here in (my father's) stead as biological and spiritual heir to say these items should never be sold to any person ... or any institution, because they are sacred," she said.

"We have no right to sell our birthright, nor the birthright of (past and future) generations," she said.

Before Obama used it during his second inauguration, the Bible was on display at The King Center in Atlanta, Bernice King told CNN Thursday. She is the center's CEO.

She said she hopes to display it again, but for now is keeping it and the Nobel prize in a location she isn't disclosing.

Her fight, she said, is not motivated by sibling rivalry, but by principal. And she said she hopes she and her brothers can reconcile.

When a reporter asked where this would end, she answered: "That's the same question I ask God every day."

This is not the first time the family has been at odds over King's legacy. Over the years, the siblings have sued and counter-sued one another.

Bernice King and Martin Luther King III sued Dexter King in 2008, accusing him of converting "substantial funds from the estate's financial account at Bank of America" for his own use. They later agreed to a settlement and avoided a public trial.

CNN's Dana Ford, Tristan Smith and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

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