Posted Oct. 9, 2008 – In the latest King family drama, a judge has ordered the daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to bring intimate correspondence between the civil rights icon and his late wife, Coretta Scott King, to a Fulton County courtroom for a hearing to determine the letters' fate.
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At stake, among other things, is a $1.4 million publishing contract for the autobiography of Mrs. King, reports The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Penguin gave notice that it would terminate the book deal if it did not receive the letters by today. The Rev. Bernice King, the youngest of the King children and administrator of her mother's estate, has refused to hand over letters and photos for an autobiography she says her mother didn't want. That pits her against brother Dexter King, who is head of the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. Inc., or King Inc., the corporation that handles the rights to their father's works.
In May, he signed the contract with Penguin Group, clearing the way for the autobiography of Mrs. King. Attorneys for King Inc. have asked a Fulton County Superior Court judge for a temporary restraining order forcing Bernice King to relinquish control of her mother's papers. They cite a 1995 contract signed by Mrs. King and all the King children. It gives the corporation the rights to any work that promotes relationships with Martin Luther King Jr., including "autobiographies relating to the life of any of the heirs," the paper reports.
Yolanda King, the eldest of the four King children, discovered the unpublished papers and photos in her mother's house after Mrs. King's death in January 2006. The papers included "intimate letters between the Kings and documents concerning the Civil Rights Movement," according to a brief in support of the restraining order.
Yolanda King, who was executor of her mother's estate, set out to secure a book contract that would make use of the papers, the brief says. But Yolanda King died in May 2007 and Bernice King became administrator of the estate. A year later, Dexter King signed the publishing contract with Penguin. The deal would give $1.2 million to King Inc., whose proceeds go to the King heirs. Another $200,000 would go to Barbara Reynolds, a journalist-turned-minister who is to compile the "Autobiography of Coretta Scott King" using taped conversations and the papers in dispute.
Bernice King and her other brother, Martin Luther King III, oppose a deal they said was hammered out behind their backs. They maintain that their mother didn't like the preliminary chapters she had received from Reynolds before her death, said Jock Smith, an attorney for the siblings.