The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

February 17, 2014

Legacy of civil rights leaders source of fights

WASHINGTON (AP) — Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter recently walked up to the pulpit of the Atlanta church where her father preached and, in a painful public display, dissociated herself from her brothers.

She accused them of plotting to sell their father's personal Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize — items she declared "sacred" and worth more than money.

When it comes to fights like this, the Kings are not alone.

Malcolm X's daughters are suing to block a book deal, signed by one sister, to publish their father's diary.

Rosa Parks' valuable mementos, including her Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, have sat in a New York City warehouse for years because of a protracted battle over her estate.

America's greatest civil rights leaders may belong to the ages, but the fights among family, friends and outsiders over control of their earthly possessions seem never-ending.

Unsavory as they may appear, fights like these are not unique, and are exacerbated by the moral heft of the leaders' life work, and the fact that their belongings could be worth millions. With each court battle, civil rights historians worry about the negative impact such infighting might have on the legacy of the civil rights movement.

Neither Malcolm X nor King, killed in 1965 and 1968, respectively, left wills, so there are no specifics about what they wanted done with their belongings. The strong widows who built legacies for them and who could enforce peace in the family through matriarchal fiat, also are gone: Betty Shabazz in 1997, Coretta Scott King in 2006.

Not even a long life and careful planning are enough to quell disputes.

Parks, who died in 2005 at age 92, stipulated in her will that her belongings go to a charitable foundation, the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in Detroit. Parks had no children, but her nieces and nephews challenged her will, and this fight has left her valuable possession in limbo for nearly a decade.

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