Martin Luther King

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Best known for advocating nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs to promote Civil Rights he  was assassinated in Memphis on April 4 1968 at the age of 39. Dr. King died without a will.

Dr. King’s heirs formed the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., a for profit corporation to allow his family to control his estate. Following the death of Dr. King’s Wife Coretta  in 2006, and his oldest daughter Yolanda in 2007, relations among the remaining siblings began to deteriorate.

Dr. King’s son Dexter currently oversees the estate.  Dexter and his siblings have brought a number of lawsuits against each other over the handling of the estate, citing the withholding of information, mismanagement and misappropriation of assets.

The Estate is in dispute with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change a non-profit institution founded by Dr. King’s widow over 45 years ago to educate and promote his Legacy. Ongoing litigation with the estate has placed a financial burden on the Centre.

Dexter’s sister Bernice, is the head of the King Center that has displayed Dr. King’s traveling Bible and Nobel Peace Prize medal. Dexter, wants to sell the Bible and medal to a private buyer, and claims that by refusing to surrender the Bible and Nobel medal, Bernice is violating a 1995 agreement amongst the heirs that assigned title and all rights and interests in Dr. King’s property to the estate. Bernice disputes the validity of this agreement, claiming (among other things) that she inherited the Bible and Medal from her late Mother, and believes that they should never be sold because they are sacred to her Father’s memory.

The Estate has been highly litigious in protecting the physical and intellectual property of the estate. Including Dr. King’s name and likeness, recordings of his sermons and other memorabilia including the copyright status of the “I have a dream” speech.

The Estate is also sued for the possession of historic documents relating to King, including handwritten letters from King, transcripts of his speeches, and his writings concerning the 1950′s civil rights movement.

This case involves the ownership of documents  given to Howard Ballou’s mother Maude when she worked for Dr. King. Maude has given evidence that she believes the documents were gifts to her and remained the personal belongings of her family ever since.  Unfortunately it is not known whether Dr. King wanted her to hold onto them as an employee, or keep them as gifts.  As Dr. King never made a Will no one really knows his intention.

If Dr. King had left a Will his family would have known his intentions regarding his papers and possessions. It could have stopped many of these expensive lawsuits, and the bitter disputes among his children.  A Will as part of a plan for the future allows your intentions to be known and alleviates further stress at an already stressful time.

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