Dr. King’s Children Profiting From the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial?

Before the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial could be built on the National Mall, the builders paid upwards of $800,000 to be able to use King’s words and images.

That seemingly exorbitant price tag was paid to Intellectual Properties Management Inc., the organization under control of Dexter King, the youngest son of the civil rights legend. According to media reports, $761,160 was paid out for the famous quotes and likeness of MLK while another $71,000 was paid to the family estate in 2003. The situation looks highly questionable because Dexter [pictured in center] the child who most resembles his iconic father, has been conspicuously absent from most, if not all, of the MLK Memorial dedication festivities, yet he was able to collect this colossal sum to use father’s name.

I found it to be very strange and disturbing that Dexter King was also nowhere to be found when I attended the momentous 40th anniversary of his father’s assassination in Memphis, Tenn., back in 2008. The march from city hall to the Lorraine Motel and museum included Rev. Al Sharpton and the two of the other surviving King children, Rev. Bernice and Martin Luther King III. Even former presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. John McCain stopped by the Lorraine for a politically expedient visit, but Dexter dismissed the affair altogether. The whole scene in Memphis was pregnant with awkwardness. Bernice [pictured left] and MLK III [pictured right] did not so much as utter a single syllable to explain why the direct beneficiary of their murdered father failed to show, but is collecting sizable dividends from MLK’s life.

Historian and King biographer David Garrow mused about the King Memorial: “I don’t think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family [or] any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington,” he said to the Associated Press. It certainly gave me pause and I cannot be the only one who had the question of Dexter’s whereabouts dancing in their minds.

It’s hard to imagine the surviving family members of John F. and Robert F. Kennedy charging fees for their fathers names and likeness which appear throughout the country.

When work on the monument began in 2009, the Dexter-controlled Intellectual Properties Management rationalized being compensated this way: “Many individuals believe all King fundraising initiatives are interrelated and don’t donate to the King Center, thinking they have already supported it by donating to the memorial.”

The National Park Service said no fee had ever been charged by the family of the immortal figures constructed on the mall before. And Harry E. Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, was being nice when he stated that the fees paid out were not a hindrance and represented a minuscule percentage of the cost to build the memorial, which came to a grand total of $120 million. “We just want to build the memorial,” said Johnson, a Houston lawyer. “The memorial we are building will be the people’s memorial and will belong to the people of the United States.”

It was certainly kind of Johnson to ration his words for the press, but there had to be other thoughts gathering in the back of his mind over having to pay a ransom’s fee to retrieve King’s words — especially when you consider that the King Memorial is still some $5 million dollars in arrears, which is abominable and embarrassing to say the least.

Garrow mused to the AP that King would have been “absolutely scandalized” by one of his children profiting off his legacy the way they have. Those same sentiments took root in my mind upon learning this information as well.

During the Alpha Phi Alpha private ceremony adjacent the memorial to honor his father,  Dexter King was not on the podium with his brother Martin III or Bernice or their aunt, Christine King Ferris. Harry Johnson, Ambassador Andrew Young, National Urban League president Marc Morial, Rev. Shartpon,  Myrlie Evers (widow of Medgar), Xernona Clayton and many others King associates and friends and admirers were there. Dexter’s absence had been gnawing at the back of my brain throughout the week festivities. I was very curious to see if Dexter would have shown up for actual official memorial dedication that would have been christened by President Obama, King’s political heir apparent. But Hurricane Elaine barreled ashore and the monument dedication has been suspended for later in September at last word.

The King family has come under fire in previous years for what has been characterized as leveraging their dead parents legacies for their own gratification from black and white media. This latest revelation only tosses kerosene on the growing fire of discontent with the King heirs and it requires redress. –terry shropshire

Terry Shropshire
Terry Shropshire

A military veteran and Buckeye State native, I've written for the likes of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Business Chronicle and the Detroit Free Press. I'm a lover of words, photography, books, travel, animals and The Ohio State Buckeyes. #GoBucks



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