Another King Family Squabble: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Sons Sue Their Sister

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September 7, 2013 ‐ By Ann Brown
Bernice King & Martin Luther King III in 2009. WENN

Bernice King & Martin Luther King III in 2009. WENN

Martin Luther King Jr. is probably rolling over in his grave. The children of the revered Civil Rights activist have turned again to the legal system in the battle over his estate. Now, just as the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic March on Washington and his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” Dr. King’s sons are suing their sister.

According to WXIA-TV, Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, who run the King estate, have filed  a lawsuit against the King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which is headed by their sister, Bernice King.

The brothers claim the King Center has mishandled historical documents, recordings, and even their father’s remains. The brothers allege that valuable items at the King Center are at risk of damage and theft.

Last month, the King Center was informed that its licensing agreement with the King estate was being terminated.

According to ABC News, on Aug. 28, King’s estate filed a complaint in an Atlanta court asking a judge to stop the King Center from using his image, likeness and memorabilia. This includes his writings, speeches, sermons and letters, as well as the remains and coffin in his crypt (!). Ironically, the date was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In March 2007 , the estate granted a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to the center to use all of these items.

The estate says the relationship between the two entities  “has recently become strained, resulting in a total breakdown in communication and transparency.”

“After failed meetings and communications, the estate sent a letter to the center on Aug. 10 saying it would terminate the license at the end of a 30-day notice period, the complaint says,” reports ABC News.

The King Center could keep the license agreement if the Center put CEO Bernice King on administrative leave until the final outcome of the audit investigation; gave the estate power over the use, care and treatment of the memorabilia until another solution could be agreed upon; and removed Alveda King, the civil rights leader’s niece, and former Atlanta mayor and civil rights veteran Andrew Young from the center’s board of directors. The estate charged that Alveda King tried to impede the audit investigation and that Young infringed the estate’s intellectual property rights.

Stephen Ryan, a lawyer for Bernice King, said in a letter on Aug. 14 to The King Center’s general counsel that her brothers have disregarded their obligations to the nonprofit center in favor of their own financial interests, and their actions risk tarnishing and reducing their father’s legacy.

In 2008, it was Bernice King suing her brothers over the estate, claiming that Dexter wouldn’t open the books and refused to include others in the decision making.

This is ugly and sad. Thoughts?

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  • Sheena B

    I agree with currvalicious on this. However, I have been to The Kin Center a couple of times and the first thing I thought was ‘Who the heck is the groundskeeper?!’ The building is old and dated, the fountain where he and his wife are laid to rest has paint chipping all over the place, weeds were growingout of control, the inside of the building didn’t have workers throughout to assist/answer questions, the memorabilia was ok but the layout was very strange (it was like walking throughout someone’s bedrooms in their house), and parking was nightmare-ish. If all of these things are what I notice from the outside looking are happening I need these CHILDREN to understand that none of this is about them and get over themselves. Split the responsibility evenly among each other according to who does what best and move on. Another option: hand it over to a non related party to be the mediator of it all. Take notes from the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Sell it to the Smithsonian. Do something. This looks horrible!

  • currvalicious

    The King siblings are always verbally sparring & suing each other, it’s sucha a shame. Even when Yolanda King was alive, same thing, it used to be she & Dexter against Bernice & MLK3. Hope they can resolve all their family issues/drama for the greater good of the patriarch’s legacy.