01 Dec 2001 King Family is Selling Out Martin’s Legacy, by Michael King
“I’m going to King-Land, King-Land; in Atlanta, G-A, I’m going to King-Land…” – with apologies to singer Paul Simon.
It appears that the family of slain civil rights giant Martin Luther King, Jr. is looking for more ways to milk the King name for as much money as humanly possible. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if a theme park in Atlanta is in the offing. The King family would be able to charge as much as an admission to Disney World, and be able to pocket the majority of it.
The federal government has authorized the construction of a monument to King on the National Mall in Washington. It’s planned to go between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. The honor is a supremely high one given the sheer number of memorials in the National Capitol Region compared them to the small number given the highest honor of placement on the National Mall – the “front yard” for the White House and U.S. Capitol. Individuals with this honor are among the most revered leaders of our nation’s history.
The descendants of those other honorees have not done what the King family has had the audacity to do – demand payment for the “right” to use King’s image, likeness and name. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, appears to have made a profession at being a widow in mourning, and used that stature to milk as much money as possible for herself and her family from an unsuspecting public. Her son, Dexter, heads up the Atlanta-based King Center for Non-Violent Social Change; a poorly-run group that appears to do little more than to act as caretaker for anything and anyone using King’s name – as long as they pay enough money for it.
In 1995, the King family shut down the King holiday commission – which Coretta Scott King herself spent years trying to establish. Family members allegedly believed the commission was a fundraising competitor.1 And, of course, they wanted to make sure that any dollars that were raised in King’s name came into their own coffers.
The King family demanded a payment from the Library of Congress of up to $20 million for the “right” to archive King’s papers. The Library balked at the fee, and rightfully so. The Library seldom pays for materials, and has never paid such a large sum for any item in its inventory.2
French telecommunications giant Alcatel paid the family an undisclosed sum to use King’s image in a television ad which used computer graphics to manipulate the scene around the Lincoln Memorial to make it appear as if King were speaking to no one as opposed to the real masses gathered at the 1963 March on Washington. Cingular Wireless also paid the King family an undisclosed sum to use a portion of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in a cellular telephone ad that included quotes from Kermit the Frog and Homer Simpson.3 These ads have done little more than to turn King into a corporate shill, for sale to the highest bidder by relatives who want to pad their high-on-the-hog lifestyle.
Congress granted King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, the right and authority to lead the memorial project. It gave the group a 2003 deadline to raise $100 million and break ground for the monument.4 The King family has reportedly demanded that it receive a portion of any and all monies donated to the memorial effort, as part of a “permissions agreement.”5 A number of companies and individuals have already donated monies to the project. General Motors, for instance, has given $750,000 for the construction. GM indicated a larger financial gift would follow, but those plans were put on hold after the King family’s demands became publicly known.6
A design for the memorial has been selected from a field of more than 900 candidates. The final plan, by San Francisco-based Roma Design Group, includes a depiction of King’s profile along with some of his writings carved within a “stone of hope.”7 It is a fitting tribute to a man who wished for no memorial to his legacy; who only wanted men to be judged by the content of their character.
Unfortunately, because of the efforts to snatch money from the project by the King family, we may not see the majestic memorial to a great man on the National Mall. Of course, if they build an amusement park, a la Walt Disney, we may get to see a statue of King – between the water slide, the roller coaster and the hot dog stand. Just don’t get any mustard on his shoes.
1 Cynthia Tucker, “Family Views MLK’s Legacy as Meal Ticket,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 28, 2001.
2 “King Family Now Says It Wants ‘Permissions Agreement,'” Associated Press, October 26, 2001.
7 The winning design for the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial project was available for download as of December 3, 2001 at http://www.competitions.org/graphics/MLK—winner—Roma.jpg.
(Michael King is a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and an Internet and radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected] and http://www.geocities.com/mhking1/.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.