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MLK III steps down as King Center president

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ATLANTA — The eldest son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. announced Tuesday he is resigning as president of the Atlanta center that honors his father's civil rights legacy.

Martin Luther King III broke the news in a statement a day after the holiday marking his father's birthday. Last week, his sister, the Rev. Bernice King, took over as chief executive officer — a role previously held by King III. Their brother, Dexter, remains chairman of the board of trustees.

King III said he will remain active on the center's board, but plans to launch a new organization dedicated to the principles of nonviolence, social justice and human rights.

"For me, the state of the world and its radically shifting winds in the wrong moral direction, summons the words of my father," the statement reads. "I am responding to my father's words by renewing and expanding."

In 2006, King III started Realizing the Dream, a nonprofit dedicated to carrying on the unfinished work of his parents addressing war, poverty and racism, and promoting nonviolent conflict resolution. He was not immediately available for comment Tuesday on the status of that organization, or to elaborate on his reasons for leaving The King Center.

A call to Bernice King seeking comment was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

King, 54, and his siblings are lifetime board members of The King Center, which was founded by his mother shortly after her husband was killed in 1968. The center was built to preserve and promote King's teachings and ideals, and is also the sacred spot where he and his wife are laid to rest.

In recent years, family infighting has strained their relationship and put the siblings at odds over the center's future.

King III became president and chief executive officer of The King Center in January 2004, but was removed from the position after Dexter became board chairman. In 2005, King III and Bernice King split with the center's board over a possible sale of the King Center to the National Park Service, which owns and operates an adjacent historic site.

The siblings were embroiled in legal battle for more than a year before settling out of court in 2009. King III and Bernice King sued Dexter King, accusing him of acting improperly as head of their father's estate, which the three of them control as a private corporation. In the lawsuit, they claimed he shut them out of decisions involving King Inc. and refused to hold a shareholders meeting since 2004.

King III resumed his position as head of the center in 2010. This weekend, he announced plans for a major overhaul of the King Center at its annual fundraising gala.