Dr. Reverend Bernice King (Joseph Sohm Visions of America/Newscom)
The corporate estate of Martin Luther King Jr.—already enmeshed in a court battle pitting the civil rights leader’s two sons against his daughter Bernice King, the CEO of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change—has opened a new front in the intra-family dispute over their father’s legacy.
On Friday, attorneys for the estate filed a complaint in Fulton County Superior Court demanding that Bernice King relinquish the Nobel Peace Prize her father won in 1964, and MLK’s “traveling Bible.”
According to the suit, Bernice King and the other MLK heirs received “undivided interest” in various property when his estate was probated, and in 1995 all the heirs assigned those rights to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc.
Bernice King, it said, “has repeatedly acknowledged and conceded the validity of the Assignment by ratifying licenses granted by” the estate. Even so, it said, she has “secreted and sequestered” the items in violation of the 1995 agreement.
The state is asking to court to order Bernice King to surrender the items and pay any related attorney fees.
The suit was filed by William Hill Jr. and Amy Palesch of what was, until December, Rafuse Hill & Hodges; the Atlanta firm was acquired by Missouri-based Polsinelli in December.
In August, the estate’s CEO, Dexter King and his brother, Martin Luther King III, authorized a suit against the King Center demanding that it stop using MLK’s name, image, speeches, recordings or other intellectual property owned by the estate and licensed to the center.
That suit, also filed in Fulton County Superior Court, was removed to federal court by the center’s lawyers, but it has since been remanded to the state court.
Rogers & Hardin partner Richard Sinkfield, who represents the King Center, could not be reached for comment.