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Free MLK: The family feuds over the rights leader’s artifacts

If Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t been assassinated in 1968, he could have turned 86 today, Jan. 15. The half-century anniversaries of the 1963 March on Washington, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Acts would have made him a much sought after commentator about an era he helped to shape.

It is also likely, if King were still alive, that his three surviving children would not be locked in a messy legal battle over control of his possessions and intellectual property.

The man who donated the money from his Nobel Peace Prize to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other rights groups probably would not have sought payments or licensing fees from journalists and scholars for access to his speeches. His children have tried to do this without embarrassment.

Martin Luther King did not profit from his acclaim. To him, it would have been unthinkable. But the unthinkable is business as usual for his children. Dexter King, Martin Luther King III and Bernice King are locked in a pair of lawsuits against each other over control of their father’s effects, including an annotated Bible and his Nobel medal.

The brothers want to sell the heirlooms, which are controlled by the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., for millions of dollars. Ms. King has tried to head that off in court, arguing that the items belong in the family. The brothers have countersued the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a nonprofit that gets significant funding from the estate and is headed by Ms. King.

On Tuesday, a judge in Fulton County Superior Court in Georgia held a hearing on whether the Bible and Nobel medal belong to the brothers or their sister. If Martin Luther King were alive, we suspect he would say that the heirlooms — and his historic words — belong to all Americans.

That his sons want to sell them to the highest bidder may have broken King’s heart. Their legal war to do so makes a mockery of his legacy and turns his dream into a scheme.

©2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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