King’s estate is run by his two sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King. The estate’s lawyers filed court papers Jan. 31 asking a judge to order their sister, the Rev. Bernice King, to surrender the items. A lawyer for the estate said at a court hearing last month that the estate has been in conversations with entities that want to buy or lease them.
Bernice has repeatedly said she opposes any such deal.
“I implore you to consider the magnitude of this moment in history and how you want your individual legacies to be defined,” Bernice said at a news conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, addressing her brothers who weren’t present.
Lawyers for the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc. did not immediately respond to an email and phone call seeking comment Thursday.
The estate’s lawyers had asked a judge to order Bernice to immediately turn over the items, saying the potential deals to sell or lease them were time-sensitive.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney declined to do that at a hearing last month, saying it would be more appropriate to maintain the status quo until the ownership dispute is resolved.
He ordered that the items be kept together in a safe deposit box in the name of the estate but that the keys be given to the court.
McBurney set a deadline of Wednesday for the items to be placed in the safe deposit box. Eric Barnum, Bernice’s lawyer, said the parties’ conflicting schedules didn’t allow them to meet that deadline and that the judge agreed to extend it to Monday.
Bernice said some people had urged her to refuse to hand over the Bible and Nobel Peace Prize and to go to jail instead. But she said she will comply with the judge’s order.
“It is, deep in my soul, difficult to place what my father described as precious heirlooms under the custody of the government, even if only for a season,” she said. “Yet, I recognize that justice and righteousness are not always aligned, and there is often a disconnect between God’s law and man’s law.”
The estate’s lawyers have said the Bible and peace prize medal belong to the estate under a 1995 agreement in which King’s heirs signed over their rights to many items they inherited from him. The three surviving King children are all board members of the estate, and they held a special board meeting in late January to vote on a proposed sale of the Bible and peace prize, estate lawyer William Hill said at the hearing last month. They voted 2-1 in favor of the sale, with Bernice being the dissenting vote, Hill said.
Bernice on Thursday called on her brothers to hold another vote and said she hopes that at least one of them would change his vote.
“With God’s help, I can only believe that the judge’s ruling is not a setback but an opportunity for my brothers to step up to reason and do what their conscience tells them is right,” she said.
Though she hasn’t spoken to her brothers since the lawsuit was filed, Bernice said she hopes they can reconcile their differences on the matter and said she would be open to an out-of-court settlement.
Bernice appealed to anyone who might consider buying the Bible and Nobel Peace Prize to take the moral high road and “leave the sacred in its sacred state.”
Bernice was joined at the news conference by supporters, including Elizabeth Omilami, the daughter of civil rights leader Hosea Williams, and the Rev. Willie Bolden, who said he participated with King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.