Dexter Scott King
Dexter King Scott King, who died Monday, January 22 at his home in Malibu, California, was cremated the same day in keeping with his wishes, Reverend Dr. Bernice King said at an emotional press conference at the King Nonviolent Center for Social Change in Atlanta Tuesday.
King, the youngest son of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died of prostate cancer. He was 62. He died after celebrating the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday one last time January 15.
At the press conference, Bernice King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s youngest child, wept and struggled to speak as she began an hour-long press conference where she gave some details of her brother’s battle with the disease and his efforts to keep his famous father’s legacy alive.
“As you can imagine, this is perhaps the hardest thing for me to do,” said Reverend Bernice King.
“I love you, Dexter,” I appreciate your leadership, your love.”
Bernice said Dexter battled prostate cancer for three and a half years and died in his sleep at his home in California.
“He fought to the very last minute,” she said. “Dexter kept the faith. His might was strong until the end.”
Dexter died one week before his 63rd birthday. It was the second death for the King family in less than a year. Last year, Christine King Farris, Dr. Martin Luther King’s oldest sister, died at 95.
Dexter’s mother, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006. His oldest sister, Yolanda King died in 2007. Like Yolanda, Dexter was cremated, according to his wishes. At the press conference, Bernice said a memorial service honoring Dexter’s life was being planned and will be announced at a later date.
Bernice King said she felt blessed after she spent “meaningful and quality time” with her brother ahead of his death.
“He looked in my eyes and said, ‘I’m proud of you. Keep this legacy going. You got this,'” she said, adding that he dedicated much of his life to shepherding the civil rights legacy of his parents.
Dexter’s wife, Leah Weber King, was not at the press conference but said in a statement, “He gave it everything and battled this terrible disease until the end. As with all the challenges in his life, he faced this hurdle with bravery and might.”
Dexter’s brother, Martin Luther King III, did not attend the press conference because he was out of town, Bernice said. But in a statement, Martin 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.”
A towering figure whose good looks resembled those of his father, Dexter was just 7 years old when his father was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Bernice said her brother worked hard to advance their father’s legacy by protecting the family’s intellectual property as Chairman of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.”
“I want people to see Dexter as an innovative leader who was fierce and focused. He was at the forefront of it all.”
Dexter and his siblings shared ownership of the King family estate, but it hasn’t always been easy managing King’s legacy.
In 2014, the siblings battled in court after Dexter and his brother 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 was opposed to the plan and filed a lawsuit to block the sale.
The dispute ended 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 weren’t disclosed.
Dexter drew national attention decades earlier when he declared that James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty in 1969 to murdering his father, was innocent. They met in 1997 at a Nashville prison as several King family members pushed to have Ray stand trial, hoping the case would reveal evidence of a broader conspiracy. Ray never got a trial. He died from liver failure the following year.
The third of four children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, Dexter was born in Atlanta on January 30, 1961. He was named after Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama, where his father served his first pastorate.
Like his father, he grew up in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where his grandfather served as pastor. He was a graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, where he played football and participated in many other school organizations. He then followed his father’s footsteps, attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
At the time of his death Dexter served as both Chairman of The King Center and President of the King Estate. He became well versed in intellectual property law, and its management and licensing, the result of his dedication to the delegated task and the memory of both his father and mother.
Known to be humble about his uncanny resemblance to his father, he portrayed him in the 2002 television movie “The Rosa Parks Story.” The actor had a love for the creative arts and initially relocated to California to pursue a career in acting. But family duty called, and he answered, living out the rest of his life balancing both his love of the arts and his duties to the King family legacy.
At a private ceremony in July, 2013, he married his best friend and longtime partner, Leah Weber. Mrs. Leah Weber King is a New Orleans native, former broadcast journalist, entrepreneur, and consultant.