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King Family Trial Dismissed, As Siblings Work to Come to Private Resolution

The public dispute involving the children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the nation’s most revered families, moved one step closer to a resolution in the ongoing drama around the use of images of the Civil Rights icon.

The Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., headed by King’s lookalike son Dexter, dismissed a lawsuit it had filed in August 2013 against the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, headed by sister and CEO Bernice King.

The estate said in its suit that it had granted the King Center a non-exclusive, 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 was scheduled to go to trial next week.

According to Dexter King, his older brother, Martin III, chairman of the estate, did not want to, in effect, take their sister to court. So Dexter King said he agreed with his brother and, in a show of good faith, pulled the suit with the hope that they can come to an agreement outside the courtroom.

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

A little too late for that.

For years, King’s three surviving children have been divided on what should be done with their father’s artifacts and likeness, stunning many by taking each other to court and making comments about their differences to the media. Of course, it all centers around money, making the family grievances that much more appalling to many.

“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 said.

The King Center lawyer James Commons said, “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.”

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 King 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 King, an ordained minister, has vehemently opposed selling the items.

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