The American icon’s three living children, known for their familial legal disputes, are pitted against each other in a latest episode that involves whether the items will be sold.
“The thought of profiting from the sale… is spiritually violent, unconscionable, historically negligent and outright morally reprehensible,” said youngest sibling Bernice Albertine King, 50, in a recent press statement. Her two brothers disagree.
In January, both of King’s sons announced in a telephone conference that they wished to put the items on the market.
The Bible, which King took with him everywhere, recently received still another layer of historical resonance when used for US President Barack Obama’s second oath of office.
King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 during his fight for the civil rights of African Americans.
The current debate over the items’ fate hinges on a 1995 agreement between King’s three children, in which each was given one vote in matters concerning his estate of historical items.
Bernice, a pastor like her father, has positioned herself as the guardian of the moral legacy King left behind when he was assassinated in 1968.
Martin Luther King III, 56, who goes by Marty, is the oldest brother and an activist known for his media appearances. Dexter Scott King, 53, who lives in California, has a patchy acting career.
Bernice, who keeps the Bible and award in a bank safe deposit box in the family’s home base of Atlanta, says selling the objects is going too far.
She recently invited the media to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where her father delivered a number of sermons.
“These items should never be sold to any person, as I say it, or any institution, because they’re sacred. I take this strong position for my father because Daddy is not here to say himself ‘My Bible and medals are never to be sold’” she told the press.
Ralph Luker, co-editor of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., said that “the struggles among the children of Doctor King have a fairly long history.”
After the 2006 death of their mother, Coretta Scott King, Dexter was the leader of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Luker said.
“Bernice and Marty forced him out and Marty was then the leader… Then Bernice and Dexter allied and forced Marty out. So the alliances have shifted from time to time,” he explained.
Their older sister, Yolanda, who died in 2007, cemented the family after the death of their mother, who passed away without a will.
After Yolanda died, the three remaining siblings sold some of King’s personal documents, including correspondence and copies of his speeches, for $32 million.
Luker said he was uncertain why the two brothers would want to sell more family items.
“It is possible that they spent their share and they need more money,” he speculated.
For the time being, a judge has ordered Bernice King to keep the two objects in a safe deposit box, whose key the judge is holding until a decision is made.
“Many of the people who have been close to the family over the years are very saddened by the bitterness of this dispute,” Luker said.
“Some observers agree that Bernice King’s position is weak and that the brothers are likely to prevail,” he said.