ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Jimmy Carter is stepping in to help resolve a legal battle over the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s traveling Bible and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
The slain civil rights icon's estate, which is controlled by his sons, last year asked a judge to order their sister to surrender the items. In a board of directors meeting last year, Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King voted 2-1 against Bernice King to sell the two artifacts to a private buyer.
Lawyers for the two sides in May told Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney that they were close to an agreement but not quite there. McBurney issued an order instructing them to use a mediator to resolve the dispute after a lawyer for Bernice King asked the judge to order mediation and the estate's lawyer did not object.
"I am honored to be working with the King Family in an effort to resolve the outstanding legal issues relating to their remarkable family legacy," Carter said in a statement issued after a meeting at the Carter Center on Monday. "I have great respect for each of the three heirs of this legacy. They are working diligently with me, and I believe we will be able to resolve these difficult disputes once and for all."
Carter, who turned 91 last week, revealed in August that he has cancer that has spread to his brain. He has said the diagnosis and resulting treatment would force him to cut back on his normal routine, but last week he announced that he plans to travel to Nepal to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project, marking the 32nd year the former president has donated his labor to the housing nonprofit.
A string of legal disputes have divided the King heirs in recent years, but Bernice, Martin III and Dexter released a joint statement expressing optimism after their meeting with Carter.
"We are truly honored and encouraged by President Carter's involvement, and we look forward to a positive resolution," they said.
Carter and the Kings said they couldn't comment further because the mediation is confidential and related to pending litigation.
Bernice spoke from the pulpit of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in February 2014 and denounced what she said was a plan by her brothers to sell the Bible and Nobel medal, which she said were among their father's most cherished possessions.
The estate's lawyers had cited a 1995 agreement among King's heirs to sign over their rights to many items they inherited from their father to the estate.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. His widow, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006. Yolanda King, the Kings' eldest child, died in 2007. The three surviving children are the sole shareholders and directors of Martin Luther King Jr. Estate Inc.
Associated Press Writer Kathleen Foody contributed to this report.