- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

ATLANTA — Martin Luther King III and his sister, Bernice, are vowing to fight the sale of a building honoring their father to the National Park Service — pitting them directly against their two siblings.

The two are in disagreement with brother and sister Dexter and Yolanda, who earlier this month voted in favor of pursuing the sale of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Their mother, Coretta Scott King, is recovering from a stroke she suffered in August and cannot verbally respond to the conflict.

Standing in front of the center yesterday, Bernice and Martin Luther King III said their priority is preserving their father’s legacy and mother’s dream.

“To many, this issue may seem a mere squabble among siblings,” Martin Luther King III said. “This issue is far greater than any one or two individuals, or even a family. Instead, we are facing a monumental moral and historical decision regarding Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and what their legacy means to this city, this nation and the world.”

Their mother founded the King Center shortly after the civil rights leader’s death in 1968. The center moved to its current site on Auburn Avenue in 1981.

The National Park Service already owns the King National Historic Site across the street. The federal agency maintains but does not own the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached from 1960 to 1968, as well as the King birth home and the visitors center.

Bernice and Martin Luther King III said their mother did express her opinion on its sale earlier this year.

“She felt at some point that it may, in fact, end up with the government, but she never envisioned that in her lifetime,” Bernice King said.

The two stressed the need for the center to have an independent voice.

Governmental control would “betray the social-gospel legacy of my father, which served to challenge economic, political, corporate and government injustice and equality,” Bernice King said.

“Our father challenged our nation — he challenged the use of violence. If the King Center is sold to the government, our nation will lose that important legacy of challenge, equality and independence,” she said.

Supporters of the sale, including King Center board member Ambassador Andrew Young, have said a transfer of power would allow the family to focus less on the burden of maintaining the grounds and more on King’s message of nonviolence.

Bernice and Martin Luther King III said Mr. Young has a point, but called a possible sale a rush to judgment, and differ with the other board members on possible solutions for maintaining the facility. The board has nine lifetime members, all but one of whom are family.

Martin Luther King III said he was removed as chief executive officer and chairman and his sister, Bernice, removed as secretary of the center’s board of directors earlier this year by a board he says was appointed by his brother, Dexter, the board chairman. He also admitted to neglecting his duties as board member over the past decade, saying his attention was focused elsewhere.

“The board of directors has been remiss in providing sufficient oversight regarding important governance of operational and program issues,” he said. “I take responsibility for my own failure.”

He now says he is stepping up and will canvass the country to save the King Center. Martin Luther King III said he also may pursue legal action to reverse Dexter King’s actions as board chairman.

The King Center grounds hold documents from the civil rights movement and the tomb of the Nobel Peace Prize winner — about which Bernice King said she is especially concerned. She said she believes “this sale will ultimately lead to the donation of my father’s remains to the federal government.”

Bernice and Martin Luther King III indicated they are willing to work with the National Park Service to improve the center and called for the agency to stop negotiations in favor of establishing a cooperative agreement.

At the least, they say they hope negotiations will cease while the family works out its differences. At most, they hope to honor Coretta Scott King’s wish to keep control of the center while she is still alive.

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