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Greedy King Children at it Again

Guest Columnist | , George E. Curry | 9/19/2012, 12:10 p.m.

In his "I Have a Dream Speech" delivered at the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said he dreamed of the day his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. If Dr. King had known how Martin III, Dexter and Bernice would later fight over money generated by commercially exploiting his name, he might have omitted any reference to their character. When it comes to money, King's remaining children have no character.

The latest of many examples is their profiting from the construction of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. They - and all Americans - should be grateful that Harry E. Johnson, Sr. and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity had the vision and unflagging commitment to believe they could erect a memorial to Dr. King on the National Mall. Last year, the 30-foot, 8-inch statue of King was unveiled, dwarfing the 19-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson and the Abraham Lincoln memorial, which is 19 feet, 6 inches.

Instead of being satisfied with this impressive memorial to their father - the first monument to an African American on the Mall - the King children saw dollar signs. They have collected more than $3 million in licensing fees from the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. The fees were charged in exchange for allowing the foundation to use King's words and likeness in fundraising appeals and as part of the memorial complex itself.

Harry Johnson has raised $119 million of the $120 million needed to build the memorial. But I doubt that any donor gave money to the project with the expectation that the King children would be able to line their pockets with their contribution.

David Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer, told the Associated Press that Dr. King would have been "absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children."

The King family is not looking for pennies or dollars. They are looking for millions. They are already making millions from King's "I Have a Dream Speech." King was a very public man, giving a public speech at the Lincoln Memorial, yet the King children claim that he was a private citizen and therefore they are entitled to profit from his public pronouncements. They successfully sued CBS to prevent the network from airing the "I Have a Dream Speech" - without paying them.

But would they win such a suit today? Fortunately for them, people are willing to give them a pass because they are Dr. King's dysfunctional children, not because of anything they have done. Private citizens don't have federal holidays named in their honor. Monuments aren't erected to them on the National Mall. If Dr. King isn't a public figure, no one is.

Even worse than charging the foundation that erected the King Memorial for use of King's words and images, the King family has now told the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation that their licensing agreement has expired and the family will not extend it. Not even for a sizeable fee. And by the way, the foundation can no longer use King in its name and will have to change that, too..