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Sale of Martin Luther King Jr. items will cost family too much: Mitchell

Bernice King speaks during news conference historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where her father MartLuther King Jr. preached Thursday Feb. 6

Bernice King speaks during a news conference at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where her father Martin Luther King Jr. preached, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Atlanta. King is in a legal battle with her brothers over her father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize medal. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Updated: March 10, 2014 6:47AM

As long as there is money to be made from the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there will be lawsuits filed by those who believe they are entitled to profit from that legacy.

Over the years, the King heirs — Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King — have squabbled among themselves and with outsiders over the rights to their father’s image and papers.

But this dispute may be the worst yet.

Without fanfare or public comment, last week the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., which is controlled by Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King, filed suit against their sister, Bernice King, demanding that she hand over King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and “traveling Bible,”— the one used for President Barack Obama’s second swearing-in ceremony.

The complaint alleged that Bernice King “secreted” and “sequestered” the items, even though the Estate has ownership of all of King’s property, according to numerous reports.

In a dramatic display of chutzpah, King’s youngest daughter took to the pulpit at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and publicly distanced herself from her brothers, Martin King III and Dexter Scott King, and any plan that would put her father’s treasured possessions in third-party hands.

“I am not my brothers. I do love them, but we are different people and that should be respected,” Bernice King said. “I love Martin and Dexter, but we are different people with different minds and different ideologies and most importantly, different relationships with God.”

Neither Martin King III nor Dexter Scott King have publicly responded to their sister’s allegations.

But on Thursday, the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution reported on it’s website it had access to a letter dated Jan. 20 from Martin Luther King III to Bernice King that appears to suggest the Estate was intending to put the items up for sale:

“The purpose of this special meeting is to discuss and vote on whether to offer for purchase at a private sale of the Nobel Peace Prize and the King Bible,” the publication reported.

Reached Friday about the matter, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., and ardent follower of King, said he hopes the items “can be spared and not privatized.”

“It pains my heart. We must pray for the family and we must weigh in — not to choose sides but to reconcile sides. We must prayerfully attempt to seek reconciliation,” he said.

The King heirs were children when their father was martyred and much of what they have today is due to their father’s prominent place in history.

But it should be remembered, King never sought to use his celebrity status in the civil rights community to enrich himself or his family.

So it is a tragic irony that there is now talk of selling King’s medal for financial gain.

King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize with deep humility, and the substantial prize money — about $54,000 — was donated to civil rights organizations.

This is an excerpt from King’s 12-minute acceptance speech delivered in Oslo on Dec. 10, 1964:

“Today, I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.”

It seems to me those words should have settled the matter.

No doubt, a sale of King’s personal Bible and the Nobel Peace Prize medal would fetch great sums from a wealthy buyer.

Still, would any amount be worth the loss of respect the King family will likely suffer if his heirs let such a sacred part of their legacy go to the highest bidder?

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