MLK Estate Drops Lawsuit Against King Center Over Licensing

Dexter Scott King talks with attorney Nicole Wade during a hearing over who owns the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal and traveling Bible on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015 in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta. King’s estate, which is controlled by his sons, last year asked a judge to order King’s daughter to surrender the items.

KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — With the dismissal of one of two lawsuits that effectively pitted them against each other, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s children took a step Thursday toward resolving the issues that have divided them in recent years.

The Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc. on Thursday voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit it had filed in August 2013 against the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Dexter Scott King is president and CEO of the estate and Martin Luther King III is chairman of the board. Their sister, the Rev. Bernice King, is CEO of the King Center.

The estate said in its suit that it had granted the King Center a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to use King’s name, likeness and image and to publicly exhibit his writings and spoken words. But an audit done in April 2013 revealed that artifacts were being held in unsafe and unsecure conditions and that the terms of the licensing agreement had been violated, the suit said. The suit sought to have the estate’s property returned safely.

The case had been set for a bench trial next week.

Dexter said in an emailed statement Thursday that he instructed the estate’s lawyers to withdraw the lawsuit because it appeared his brother, Martin, had had a recent change of heart. The dismissal of the lawsuit is a show of good faith as the siblings move to resolve the issues at stake outside the courtroom, Dexter said.

“I understand my brother’s apprehension days before a public trial, and I share those concerns,” he said. “None of us want to see the legacy of my parents, or our dysfunction, out on public display.”

While the lawsuit has been dropped, lawyers for both sides said there is still work to be done to come to an agreement on the underlying issues.

“Where they are is they’re trying to find a resolution, and Dexter, in his capacity as the brother of Martin and Bernice, is trying to find a resolution that serves the interests of the estate because they’re all directors of the estate,” estate lawyer William Hill told The Associated Press.

The King Center is pleased that the estate has taken a first step in dropping the lawsuit, but “there remains much work to be done in terms of forging a long-lasting resolution between the estate and the center in terms of a licensing agreement between the two entities,” James Commons, a lawyer for the center, said in telephone interview.

The family had plans to meet Thursday evening to begin settlement discussions, Hill said.

A lawsuit filed against Bernice last year by the estate over ownership of King’s traveling Bible and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize is still pending and is set to go to trial next month. Dexter said he hopes those issues will also be resolved before a public trial.

The three surviving King children are the sole shareholders and directors of their father’s estate. At a board of directors meeting a year ago, the two brothers voted 2-1 against Bernice to sell their father’s Bible and peace prize medal.

Bernice has been outspoken in her opposition to selling the items. Speaking after a hearing in that case last week, Dexter declined to say whether they would be sold if the estate prevails in the ownership dispute.

King was assassinated in Memphis in April 1968. His wife, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006. Yolanda King, the Kings’ eldest child, died in 2007.


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