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Dexter King, son of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., listens to arguments in the State Court of Criminal Appeals in Jackson, Tenn., Friday, Aug. 29, 1997, to determine whether two Memphis judges have overstepped their authority surrounding the investigation of the King assassination. The King Center in Atlanta said the 62-year-old son of the civil rights leader died Monday, Jan. 22, 2024 at his California home after battling prostate cancer. (Helen Comer/The Jackson Sun via AP, Pool, File)
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Published: 23 January 2024

ATLANTA (AP) — Dexter Scott King, who dedicated much of his life to shepherding the civil rights legacy of his parents, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, died Monday after battling prostate cancer. He was 62.

The King Center in Atlanta, which Dexter King served as chairman, said the younger son of the civil rights icon died at his home in Malibu, California. His wife, Leah Weber King, said in a statement that he died “peacefully in his sleep.”

“The sudden shock is devastating," Martin Luther King III, the older brother of Dexter King, said in a statement. "It is hard to have the right words at a moment like this. We ask for your prayers at this time for the entire King family.”

The third of the Kings' four children, Dexter King was named for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where his father served as a pastor when the Montgomery bus boycott launched him to national prominence in the wake of the 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks.

Dexter King was just 7 years old when his father was assassinated in April 1968 while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

“He turned that pain into activism, however, and dedicated his life to advancing the dream Martin and Coretta Scott King had for their children” and others, the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement. He said Dexter King "left us far too soon.”

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, said he prayed with the King family Monday and extended “my deepest condolences, strength, and solidarity to them during this time of remembrance and grief.”

Dexter King described the impact his father's killing had on his childhood, and the rest of his life, in a 2004 memoir, “Growing Up King.”

“Ever since I was seven, I’ve felt I must be formal," he wrote, adding: “Formality, seriousness, certitude — all these are difficult poses to maintain, even if you’re a person with perfect equilibrium, with all the drama life throws at you.”

As an adult, Dexter King bore such a striking resemblance to his famous father that he was cast to portray him in a 2002 TV move about Parks starring Angela Bassett.

He also worked to protect the King family’s intellectual property. In addition to serving as chairman of the King Center, he was also president of the King estate.

Dexter King and his siblings, who shared control of the family estate, didn’t always agree on how to uphold their parents’ legacy.

In one particularly bitter disagreement, the siblings ended up in court after Dexter King and his brother in 2014 sought to sell the Nobel Peace Prize their father was awarded in 1964 along with the civil rights leader’s traveling Bible used by President Barack Obama for his second inauguration. Bernice King said she found the notion unthinkable.

The King siblings settled the dispute in 2016 after former President Jimmy Carter served as a mediator. The items were turned over to the brothers, but other terms of the settlement were kept confidential.

Decades earlier, Dexter King made headlines when he publicly declared that he believed James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty in 1969 to murdering his father, was innocent. They met in 1997 at a Nashville prison amid an unsuccessful push by King family members to have Ray stand trial, hoping the case would reveal evidence of a broader conspiracy.

When Ray said during their prison meeting that he wasn't the killer, Dexter King replied: “I believe you and my family believes you.” But Ray never got a trial. He died from liver failure the following year.

Dexter King is survived by his wife as well as his older brother, Martin Luther King III; his younger sister, the Rev. Bernice A. King; and a teenage niece, Yolanda Renee King.

Coretta Scott King died in 2006, followed by the Kings' oldest child, Yolanda Denise King, in 2007.

“Words cannot express the heart break I feel from losing another sibling," Bernice King said in a statement.

A memorial service will be announced later, the King Center said. The family planned a news conference Tuesday in Atlanta.

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