King brothers gain control of MLK’s Nobel Prize, Bible in judge’s ruling

A judge has opened a clear path for the estate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to sell the namesake’s 1964 Nobel Prize and a Bible that was used by President Barack Obama during his second inauguration.

On Monday, the day the trial was set to start, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney signed a consent order stating that the Nobel Prize and King’s traveling Bible had to be turned over to the estate’s chairman Martin Luther King III.

McBurney essentially dismissed a two-year-old lawsuit, which saw King's children once again in court fighting each other in a case that Georgia's only other Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jimmy Carter, was called in to mediate. The decision ends the legal action over the items.

McBurney does not specify what should happen to the items, but Carter said that Bernice King would not stand in the way of her brother’s ultimate decision.

“I was pleased to have worked with this family to resolve some difficult and long standing issues. While Bernice has always believed that the Peace Prize and Bible should not be sold, I am grateful that she has agreed not to stand in the way of the estate’s decisions about how to handle the items,” Carter said Monday. “As in any mediation, compromises were required, and I am glad that the parties resolved the issues in the interest of the greater good and their parents’ legacy.”

In a joint statement issued by all three of the siblings, they did not address the future of the items, which could fetch millions on the open market. Rather, they praised Carter for helping reach a resolution.

“We are very grateful for the leadership provided by President Carter in reaching a resolution,” they wrote. “His efforts were critical in assisting us in resolving this matter and in setting us on a path of healing and reconciliation.”

The whole matter landed the siblings in court in 2014 after King III and his brother, Dexter King, the CEO of the estate, indicated that they wanted to sell them to the horror of their younger sister, Bernice King.

Bernice King argued that the items were sacred. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The Bible was his personal traveling Bible and was used by President Obama during his second inauguration in January 2013. It is signed by both of them.

But Bernice King was outvoted by her brothers 2-1 in what she said was a hastily called board meeting in January 2014. The brothers, at the time, claiming that they needed funds for the King Estate, said they had a private buyer interested in buying the items on the open market.

The brothers cited a 1995 agreement that they said gave the estate ownership of all their father’s property.

Bernice King took possession of the items and was taken to court by her brothers, who asked a judge to make her surrender them. In February 2014, McBurney ordered the items to be placed in a safe deposit box with the keys controlled by the court, until a ruling could be reached.

Earlier this summer, McBurney ruled that the Bible belonged to the estate, forcing Bernice King's lawyers to file an appeal. Phone calls and emails to Eric Barnum, a lawyer for Bernice King, were not immediately returned.

Nicole Wade, a lawyer for the estate, did not immediately respond to an email or a phone call seeking comment Monday.

The dispute over the Bible and Nobel medal was originally set to go to trial in February 2015, but McBurney halted all action in the case to give the two sides a chance to talk and see if they could resolve their differences outside of court. Lawyers for both sides told the judge in May 2015 that they were close to an agreement but not quite there, and McBurney ordered mediation at the request of Bernice’s attorneys.

Last October, Carter, who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt and has a Nobel Prize of his own, confirmed he was working as a mediator in the case.

McBurney said at a hearing in June that he had been willing to allow the long delays in the case because the issues at stake are very important.

But on July 1, McBurney said the mediation has gone on long enough and that it was time for the case to move forward. McBurney ruled that the Bible belonged to the estate, but he said the issue of ownership of the Peace Prize medal would proceed to trial because “genuine issues of material fact” remained.

The Associated Press contributed to this report