“I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.” — Martin Luther King Jr., Feb. 4, 1968
Maybe we should take up an offering.
Obviously, the heirs of Martin Luther King Jr. are hard up for money. That must be why they keep selling off pieces of his legacy.
Have you heard the latest? King’s youngest child, Bernice, issued a statement last week after her brothers, Dexter and Martin III, filed suit to force her to turn over their father’s Nobel Peace Prize and his traveling Bible. She says they want to sell them to a private owner.
According to the suit, King’s heirs agreed in 1995 to turn their inheritance over to a corporate entity, The Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., where Martin is chairman of the board. The complaint says Bernice has “repeatedly acknowledged and conceded the validity” of the agreement, but still refuses to surrender the items. The suit makes no mention of a sale. I called the King brothers’ lawyer for comment. He didn’t return the call.
In her statement, Bernice writes, “While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them is extremely troubling.” She says she is “appalled,” “ashamed” and “disappointed” by their behavior. “It reveals a desperation beyond comprehension.” Their father, she adds, “MUST be turning in his grave.”
Turning? Martin Luther King must be spinning like a record album.
Not just because of this, but because over the years his family has missed no opportunity to pimp his legacy. That verb is used advisedly. I am mindful of its racial freight, but frankly, no other word adequately describes the behavior of this family with regard to its most celebrated member. Every year, they remind us to respect his legacy, but it seems increasingly apparent they don’t respect — or even fully understand it — themselves.
If they did, they could not have licensed his image for a commercial with Homer Simpson. Or put his personal papers on sale for $20 million. Or demanded money to allow his likeness to grace a memorial on the Washington Mall.
What would King think of them fighting Harry Belafonte for the return of papers King gave him as a gift — especially since Belafonte helped finance King’s movement and the upbringing of these selfsame kids?