Who Owns Martin Luther King’s Legacy: the Family or the Civil Rights Movement?

Who Owns Martin Luther King’s Legacy: the Family or the Civil Rights Movement?

Atlanta is ground central for the Civil Rights movement              

Atlanta is where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and where he served as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. It’s the home of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which houses King’s marble tomb, the artifacts celebrating his life and legacy, including the boots he wore on marches and the monogrammed briefcase he carried on his last trip to Memphis.

All of these items are now the subject of a contentious legal battle that has put King’s children at odds and placed the future of the King Center in question–which Coretta Scott King set up in good conscience in her basement way back in 1968.

The King family well known for their public legal battles

Many Atlanta citizens are stunned at the thought of selling items from the civil rights struggle, believing that these items belong to the movement—not to the King family. This is the Bible, after all, which King took on the road with him during his early days as a preacher; President Obama chose this Bible for his second term’s swearing-in ceremony.

MLK’s oldest son, Dexter Scott King, the CEO of the for-profit Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., is seeking to terminate the Center’s use of King’s intellectual and physical property. His sister, Bernice Albertine King, is the head of the nonprofit center.

If a judge rules in the estate’s favor, the Center would have to strip “Martin Luther King Jr.” from its title. It would no longer have the right to exhibit King’s sermons, speeches or the crypt that contains his remains. The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change would become simply the Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Two legal battles are unfolding

  1. One suit concerns the right to use King’s intellectual and physical property–the estate against the King Center.
  2. Another suit concerns who owns King’s Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize medal–the estate against Bernice.

Dexter, who wants to sell the Bible and medal to a private buyer, claims Bernice illegally “secreted and sequestered” these items. Bernice, who disputes their ownership, contends any sale of the items would betray their father’s legacy.

There is evidence that the Center has been mismanaged, is in disrepair, does not have adequate security. Regardless of the results of these legal battles, for millions of Americans, the legacy of Martin Luther King is very much alive.

There is a message here

When there is money at stake, funny things can happen in even the best of families. By creating a thoughtful, detailed living trust, you can avoid your heirs indulging in legal battles over their inheritance.

If creating a Living Trust is on your to-do list, we encourage you to come in to one of our California Document Preparers offices to get started. We help make this easy for you. Be thinking about who, among your family members, should be the Executor—and just as important– the backup Executor.