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Family Feud Renews Over MLK's Prized Possessions


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. The children of Martin Luther King, Jr. are embroiled in yet another legal battle. As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, the fight this time is over control of the late civil rights leader's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Bernice King stood today in the pulpit of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

BERNICE KING: Where my father delivered many poignant sermons. It is because I want it understood in no uncertain terms that this is a sacred and a serious matter.

ELLIOTT: King took to the pulpit to defend herself against a lawsuit brought by her father's estate, which is chaired by her brother, Martin Luther King, III. The suit accuses Bernice King of secreting and sequestering her father's Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize and asks the Georgia court to force her to relinquish the property to the estate.

Bernice King says her siblings told her last month why they want the items.

KING: My brothers Dexter Scott King and Martin Luther King, III notified me that they want to sell our father's most prized possessions: his personal travelling Bible and Nobel Peace Prize awarded 50 years ago this year.

ELLIOTT: The lawsuit says nothing about selling the property in question. Martin Luther King, III and the attorney representing the MLK estate declined to speak with NPR. Bernice King says she will fight to protect the artifacts in her possession.

KING: I take this strong position for my father because Daddy is not here to say himself: my Bible and my medals are never to be sold.

RALPH LUKER: It's a sad spectacle.

ELLIOTT: Historian Ralph Luker is co-editor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. papers.

LUKER: This is actually just another episode in a long term struggle within the family for control of King's legacy.

ELLIOTT: Since Coretta Scott King died in 2006, the children have been in and out of court. Most recently, the estate, controlled by Martin Luther King, III and Dexter King, sued the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change of which Bernice King is CEO. Luker says part of the problem is that when King was assassinated in 1968, he left no will.

Remaining members of King's inner circle are troubled by the public legal battles. Former Atlanta mayor Ambassador Andrew Young had this to say on local television station WXIA.

ANDREW YOUNG: I don't know what they're thinking and I think that they sue too quick.

ELLIOTT: Bernice King rejects the notion that this is a sibling rivalry and says she's just trying to protect the King birthright. Debbie Elliott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.