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Dexter Scott King, Son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dies of Cancer at 62

Dexter Scott King was the civil rights activist’s third child


spinner image dexter scott king in this photo from a two thousand and six event
Dexter Scott King speaks at The Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at the old Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2006.
Thomas S. England/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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 of 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.”

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The third of the Kings’ four children, Dexter King was named for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where his father was serving 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 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.”

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 movie about Parks starring Angela Bassett.

He became an attorney and 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 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 at his second inauguration. The Rev. Bernice A. 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.

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

“Words cannot express the heartbreak I feel from losing another sibling,” Bernice King, the youngest of the four, said in a statement.

Dexter King’s older brother, Martin Luther King III, said: “The sudden shock is devastating. 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.”

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