Honoring 50th anniversary of King’s Peace Prize while medal is in safe deposit box due to family lawsuits

By Maria Saporta

When her younger brother won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Christine King Farris said he asked some of his friends for money so members of his family could go with him to Oslo, Norway.

“That was how Martin was,” Farris remembered during a program at the Carter Center on Tuesday night – the eve of the 50th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1964 who at 35 was the youngest person ever to receive to the Nobel Peace Prize. Farris said that if he were to receive the honor, he wanted his family around him.

Historic bookends. Fifty years later – on Dec. 10, 2014 – Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, who at 17, is now the youngest person who has received the Nobel Peace Prize. She received peace prize along with Kailash Satyarthi from India ­– both being recognized for advocating for the rights of young people.

The program at the Carter Center was part of two days of panel discussions and activities aimed at commemorating the 50th anniversary of King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize – a venture that was put on by the King Center, the Carter Center, the Center for Civil & Human Rights and the National Park Service Martin L. King Jr. National Historic Site.

Bernice King, CEO of the King Center and the youngest child of the civil rights legend, was only 20 months old when her father accepted the prize. But she is dedicated to carrying on his legacy of non-violence by fighting injustice, poverty and militarism.

In opening the program, Bernice King said that the civil unrest in Georgia, the United States and the world shows that her father’s work is not finished.

“Our humanity is on the line,” she said urging everyone to draw on her father’s teachings. “They thought they killed the dream when they killed the dreamer. His life resonates with us today.”

Meanwhile, Bernice King is still waging her own fight with her brothers – Dexter King and Martin Luther King III – over control and ownership of King’s Nobel Peace Prize Medal as well as his personal Bible. Her brothers have declared their interest to sell those two items while Bernice King has said they are sacred and should not be sold.

Both parties filed lawsuits against each other this past February. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled that Bernice had to turn over the Peace Prize and the Bible to a court-controlled safe deposit box until the case was settled.

The siblings have not been able to reach an agreement out of court so the case is headed to trial. It was scheduled for later this month, but now the trial has been  postponed until February.

There’s a sad irony that King’s actual Nobel Peace medal is locked away from public view while we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of him receiving the award.

But compared to the conflicts that existed in Atlanta and in the South during the 1960s, it may seem minor by comparison because it is only a symbolic struggle.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the animosity of whites against blacks was intense in the South, Georgia and even in key corners of its capital city.

“Atlanta did finally come through kicking and screaming and did what it should do,” said Janice Rothschild Blumberg, who was married to the late Rabbi Jacob Rothschild of the Temple – also a target of prejudice after being bombed in 1958.

Rabbi Rothschild helped organize the Atlanta dinner that was held at the Dinkler Plaza in honor of King receiving the Nobel Prize, and his wife was able to secure the inscribed crystal bowl which the Rabbi presented to King that night on behalf of the city.

The dinner almost was a disaster because few people were buying tickets for the event. But Andrew Young said that it was the powerful influence of the Coca-Cola Co.’s J. Paul Austin who reminded the Atlanta business community that it did not honor King by attending the dinner, the company could move its headquarters.

After that, the dinner quickly became a sell-out, and even the King family had problems getting tickets for some of their friends.

Janice Rothschild Blumberg said several people helped lead the way for Atlanta, including editorial writer Ralph McGill and Morehouse College President Benjamin Mays.

“You don’t know how far we have come,” she told the audience.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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