ATLANTA – The children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. are trying to settle a lawsuit over their father’s travelling Bible and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize without going to trial, according to a judge’s order.
King’s estate, controlled by his sons, last year asked a judge to order King’s daughter to surrender the items. In a board of directors meeting last January, Martin Luther King III and Dexter had voted 2-1 against the Rev. Bernice King to sell the artifacts.
The case, considered by many to be the ugliest in a string of legal disputes that have divided the slain civil rights icon’s children in recent years, was set to go to trial next month. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney on Wednesday temporarily halted all action in the case at the parties’ request to allow them time to settle the matter. A hearing will be held March 25 if a settlement hasn’t been reached and the case dismissed, McBurney wrote in his order.
Speaking to reporters earlier this month following a hearing in the case, Dexter King declined to say whether the Bible and peace prize would be sold if the estate prevailed in the dispute, but he added that he believes both items should be accessible to the public.
After the lawsuit against her was filed a year ago, Bernice publicly denounced any potential sale and she reiterated that opposition Thursday in a statement released by her lawyer.
“I continue to maintain that these artifacts are too sacred to sell under any circumstances,” her statement says. “Nonetheless, whatever the outcome of the settlement, I am committed to work tirelessly to preserve the historic role these artifacts played in the civil rights movement, and our nation’s history, by keeping them accessible to the public.”
Lawyers for the estate did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday, but they have previously said they would welcome settlement talks.
The stay of proceedings in the case comes on the heels of the dismissal last week of another lawsuit that effectively pitted the two brothers against their sister. The Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc. on Jan. 22 voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit it had filed in August 2013 against the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Dexter Scott King is president and CEO of the estate and Martin Luther King III is chairman of the board. The Rev. Bernice King is CEO of the King Center.
That suit centred on a licensing agreement between the estate and the King Center for the use of King’s name, likeness, works and memorabilia. The estate claimed the King Center had violated that agreement and was storing King artifacts in unsafe and unsecure conditions.
When that lawsuit was dismissed, Dexter had said in an emailed statement that it was a show of good faith as he and his siblings worked to resolve the issues dividing them.
“None of us want to see the legacy of my parents, or our dysfunction, out on public display,” Dexter said in the statement.