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February 7, 2014

Martin Luther King's children battling over estate

ATLANTA (AP) — A generation after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, his children are fighting among themselves again, this time over two of their father's most cherished possessions: his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal and the Bible he carried.

The civil rights leader's daughter Bernice King has both items, and her brothers, Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, asked a judge last week to order her to turn them over. She said her brothers want to sell them.

In a blistering statement this week, Bernice said their father "MUST be turning in his grave" over the idea. She said that while she loves her brothers dearly, she was "appalled and utterly ashamed" of the plan, and added: "It reveals a desperation beyond comprehension."

Then on Thursday, at a news conference from the pulpit of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where her father and grandfather preached, she portrayed herself as the true protector of King's legacy.

"When the record books are written, let it be said that there was at least one heir who tried to further the legacy," she said.

In response to repeated emails and calls, a lawyer for the King estate, which is controlled by Dexter and Martin III, sent a copy of a 1995 agreement among the siblings in which they signed over the rights to many items to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc. The lawyer offered no comment.

It is the latest in a string of disputes over the years that some historians have come to see as a sad and unseemly footnote to history that could damage King's name.

David J. Garrow, whose book "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference" won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize, said he wasn't "surprised in the slightest" to hear about the latest fight among the King heirs.

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