Newsgroups: soc.culture.african.american,alt.politics.democrats.d,talk.politics.misc,alt.society.liberalism,ny.politics,,alt.non.racism
Subject: MLK Legacy BURIED By His Family? (What would MLK say?)
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 00:11:23 -0500
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Heirs will bury King legacy

Opinion by Cynthia Tucker,, 4 January 2006

When Isaac Farris, nephew of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., announced plans in late December to sell the King Center to the National Park Service, it seemed the King heirs had finally embraced reality: They don't have the resources—or the inclination, it seems—to maintain the center properly. And, since the property is a monument to King's legacy, it ought to belong to the public anyway.

But that burst of reasonableness from the King family was short-lived. Last week, two King siblings—Martin L. King III and his sister, Bernice—announced that they would fight any plans to sell. Standing on the steps of the center, King said portentously, “Bernice and I stand to differ with those who would sell our father's legacy and barter our mother's vision, whether it is for 30 pieces of silver or $30 million.”

Move over, Bobby and Whitney. A family this dysfunctional deserves its own unscripted TV show.

You'd think the siblings could manage to set aside their differences in deference to their mother, who suffered a major stroke in August. (Since she has not issued any public statements since her stroke, her views of the proposed “barter” of her vision are not clear. But former King lieutenant Andrew Young, a King Center board member and close family friend, supports the sale.) Her illness serves as a reminder of her advancing years, of the fact that her life's work is largely behind her.

She built a legacy that focused on preserving the memory of her husband, the slain civil rights leader; she raised the funds to build the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, and she was the driving force behind the legislation for a federal holiday in his honor.

Twenty-two years after President Ronald Reagan signed the bill establishing the third Monday of every January as the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday—close to King's Jan. 15th birthday—it is celebrated in all 50 states. While the holiday weekend sometimes seems no more than another occasion for a winter sale, some locales, including Atlanta, have made it a call to volunteerism. Other cities and towns hold church services and programs that remind attendees of the continuing need for social justice.

But Mrs. King's other achievement, the King Center, has not fared as well over the years. Indeed, it is sliding toward oblivion.

Perhaps because the King Center could never hold onto a professional executive, it has not become a significant institution for promoting nonviolent social activism—or, really, for promoting much of anything beyond the King family. Its schedule of seminars and programs has always been haphazard, its expertise superficial and its mission incoherent.

More than anything else, the building on Auburn Avenue has served as an annual draw for thousands of tourists making the pilgrimage to Dr. King's grave and as a backdrop for services on the King holiday. Every year a high-ranking political official, usually the president of the United States, places a wreath on the grave.

Now, however, the very building has fallen into disrepair under the abusive stewardship of King's heirs. The center needs repairs that will cost millions. The reflecting pool that surrounds the crypt is often scummy, its bottom covered with algae. An acquaintance once told me that her elementary school child, assigned to draw the reflecting pool, colored it green—correctly noting, “That's the color it was!” Visitors are often disappointed—indeed, dismayed—by its condition.

When Mrs. King ran the center, she was disorganized and sloppy, not always monitoring finances as carefully as she should have. By contrast, her sons' poor management has been more callous than careless. Dexter King devised a convenient little deal that allowed him in some years to collect around half of the King Center's revenues. As the center's acting chief operating officer, he has given his private firm, Intellectual Properties Management, a contract to lease employees to the center. Between 2000 and 2004, the King Center paid the company $4.3 million, according to reports by Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Ernie Suggs. Meanwhile, the center also paid salaries to Dexter and Martin III.

It's not clear whether the lucrative arrangement that allowed Dexter to siphon funds from the King Center continues, since the family refuses to answer questions about its management. But you can bet the sons haven't had any recent epiphanies that would compel them to stop leeching off the King Center, which they seem to view as the family business.

The only hope for the King Center's long-term survival is to turn it over to the Park Service, which oversees much of the surrounding area. Congress would be more inclined to give operating funds to a public venue than to a private venture, especially since much of the taxpayers' money would likely be skimmed by the King children. Besides, the Park Service has been a reliable steward of civil rights-era facilities, including the old Ebenezer Baptist Church.

If the King Center stays in the hands of the family, it will probably continue to deteriorate—and, with it, much of Mrs. King's legacy. Surely her children want more for her than that. The problem, of course, is not what they want for her, but what they want for themselves.