Family dispute over Dr. King’s Bible, Nobel Prize medal ends
Free Press staff, wire reports | 8/26/2016, 6:47 a.m.
A Fulton County, Ga., judge has signed an order ending an ownership dispute over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s traveling Bible and Nobel Peace Prize medal that had pitted the slain civil rights leader’s two sons against their sister.
The consent order signed Aug. 15 by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney says the items are to be released to Martin Luther King III as chairman of the board of his father’s estate, but does not indicate what will happen to them after that.
The parties released a joint statement later saying the details of the settlement are confidential.
Dr. King’s three surviving children — Martin, Dexter Scott King and Bernice King — are the sole shareholders and directors of the estate. Dexter King is its president and CEO.
During a board meeting in January 2014, the brothers voted 2-1 against their sister to sell the two artifacts to an unnamed private buyer. The items had long been in Bernice’s possession, and the estate filed suit about a week later asking a judge to order her to surrender them.
Bernice King said at the time that the idea of selling two of their father’s most cherished items was unthinkable.
Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The Bible was his personal traveling Bible and was used by President Obama during his second inauguration in January 2013.
A lawyer representing the estate said during a hearing in February 2014 that the brothers voted to sell the two items because the estate needed money. That same month, Judge McBurney ordered the items to be placed in a safe deposit box with the keys controlled by the court.
On Aug. 15, the judge signed an order submitted by the two sides that dismissed the lawsuit and said the keys to the safe deposit box are to be turned over to Dr. King’s older son. The bank is also to release the Bible, Nobel medal and its accompanying certificate and box to him.
Earlier this summer, Judge McBurney ruled that the Bible belonged to the estate, and Bernice’s lawyers filed an appeal. A trial on the question of ownership of the Nobel medal had been set to begin. In a recent court filing, the chances of a settlement were described as “fair/poor.”
The dispute over the Bible and Nobel medal originally was set to go to trial in February 2015, but Judge McBurney halted all action in the case to give the two sides a chance to talk and see if they could resolve their differences outside of court. Lawyers for both sides told the judge in May 2015 that they were close to an agreement but not quite there. The judge then ordered mediation at the request of Bernice’s attorneys.
Former President Jimmy Carter confirmed in October he was working as a mediator in the case.
President Carter said in a statement following the Aug. 15 settlement that he was pleased to work with the King family “to resolve some difficult and long-standing issues.”
“While Bernice has always believed that the Peace Prize and Bible should not be sold, I am grateful that she has agreed not to stand in the way of the estate’s decisions about how to handle the items,” President Carter said. “As in any mediation, compromises were required, and I am glad that the parties resolved the issues in the interest of the greater good and their parents’ legacy.”
The case was the latest in a string of legal disputes that have divided Dr. King’s children in recent years.
Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. His widow, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006. Yolanda King, the Kings’ eldest child, died in 2007.