Saturday, October 18, 2008
ATLANTA —The Rev. Bernice King and Martin Luther King III haven't spoken to their brother in months, and their painful family feud has kept Dexter King from meeting his only niece, his two remaining siblings said Saturday.
The middle children of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King told The Associated Press that the ongoing fight may seem at odds with their parents' peacemaking example. But they maintain their decision to face their brother in court, though difficult, is in keeping with what they were taught.
"No one wants to be at this place," Martin Luther King III said, adding that negotiation and direct action are part of the nonviolent strategy espoused by his parents. "Certainly, Bernice and I would not want to be here, but we didn't have a choice. We were not able to get a resolution to the conflict we are engaged in. My father also used the court system."
"This was a very agonizing decision for us because we are family," Bernice King added.
The three surviving King children have looked more like adversaries than siblings in recent months as they struggle to settle three lawsuits. On Tuesday, lawyers for Dexter King asked a judge to demand that Bernice King _ as administrator of her mother's estate _ turn over personal papers, including love letters between the civil rights icons.
The case is ongoing in Atlanta civil court, and the judge has appointed a special master to catalogue dozens of boxes belonging to Coretta Scott King.
Control of the documents is threatening to derail a $1.4 million book deal with New York publisher Penguin Group for a memoir about the civil rights matriarch. Bernice and Martin Luther King III both say that the book goes against their mother's wishes. And they say it exemplifies how her brother has effectively shut out them out of the corporation that controls their father's legacy.
"It's almost like a dictatorship," Martin Luther King III said. "That's how it felt to us."
Craig Frankel, one of the attorneys representing Dexter as CEO of King Inc., did not immediately return a phone message Saturday evening. But Dexter King said Tuesday that he was not an instigator in the feud, which he called "a power struggle between siblings" that did not honor the spirit of his parents. However, he did express hope that the conflict could be resolved.
"Healing takes time. We do love each other," Dexter King said. "We were raised in a loving family. I think that will prevail."
He and his sister acknowledged that their rift with Dexter King has developed over several years. In the past, when they disagreed, they respectfully deferred to their mother. Coretta Scott King's death in 2006 _ and the sudden death of their sister, Yolanda, in 2007 _ failed to bring Dexter King closer to his siblings. Instead, they have become increasingly estranged.
Yet all three maintain hope for reconciliation.
"One would hope that through tragedy, ultimately, people become closer," Martin Luther King III said. "That has not happened yet. It's something we have to work towards. But we have to resolve these issues first."
Bernice King said she loves and has forgiven her brother.
"I want something different because I know who he is," she said, adding that she has not spoken to Dexter King in nearly a year. "I really want my brother back ... but the trust, for me, that's where there's a problem."
Martin Luther King III said he has not spoken to his brother since June. He also said Dexter King _ who lives in Malibu, Calif. _ has yet to see his niece, Yolanda.
"He's the only uncle," Martin Luther King III said, his voice filled with emotion at the mention of his first child, whom he said sometimes looks like Dexter King. "It's tough from that standpoint."
Even as they have grown apart from their brother, Bernice and Martin Luther King III say the challenges of the past two years have improved their relationship with each other.
"Now, we talk many times every day," Martin Luther King III said. "This has brought us closer. That is where we need to be with our brother."
For now, their legal troubles stand in the way. But they are not trying to keep their mother's story from being told, Bernice King said.
"We don't have a problem with the memoir being done," she said. "The question is how is it being done."
Dexter King negotiated the contract with Penguin Group as chief executive officer of King Inc. _ the corporation established to manage their father's estate _ without his siblings, who said Coretta Scott King decided against using author and minister Barbara Reynolds, and never settled on a new writer for the book.
"Nobody has the monopoly on Martin and Coretta Scott King," Bernice King said. "This is ours, and it should be governed that way."
(This version CORRECTS to reflect that Dexter King is not Bernice's younger brother.)
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