Usually, I like to use this space to start a conversation about the political and social issues facing our country as a whole; I try to focus on issues that either explicitly or implicitly affect everyone.
And so it might be a surprise to some people that I want to address a specific controversy: the slander of the family of Martin Luther King. This might not seem like it is everyone’s business, but the King family is a major part of our national history, and slander is a necessarily public injustice. Undoing this injustice must in turn be public.
Columnist George E. Curry has published an article called “Greedy King Children At it Again,” which is nothing more than a hit piece. In the column, Curry alleges that the King family charges people for use of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dr. Bernice King has made it clear to me emphatically that no school was ever charged a royalty nor was any school ever sued for using that speech. “In reviewing the past records and files I have never seen any indication that such events happened before.” Whereas Dr. King had a dream, now his children have a nightmare.
There is a legitimate, but unrelated personal dispute between the King Memorial Project Foundation and the King family. That needs to be discussed, but bringing in false allegations contributes nothing.
I don’t deny that The King family is a family of human beings, after all, and no family is perfect. But I think we can all sympathize with them: I cannot imagine the pressure they all feel to live up to the legacy of their parents. Imagine the weight of the shadow of that great man. They must live every aspect of their lives in full public view, with people ready to attack them no matter what they do or whatever position they take. That would be difficult for anyone.
It was not the King children who established royalty rights in all of Dr. King’s work. This was done specifically by Dr. and Mrs. King for the benefit of their children. Furthermore, this is only for the commercialization and profit off of the work of Dr. King. And isn’t that entirely reasonable? The King family is not charging people for, say, educational usage of their father.
Wouldn’t you want your children to reap the benefits of what you had sown? Don’t we all want to leave something behind for people to benefit from after we are gone? Dr. and Mrs. King were well aware that their work was important, but dangerous, and just as well aware of the possibility that their children might grow up without a father, and with a mother who was significantly dedicated to her husband’s cause and legacy. The rights to the works of the parents were their gift to their children, an inheritance, because they knew that they would be forced to grow up and survive in a world completely without privacy. I think any of us in that situation would want the same thing for our children.
They are good people, believe me, and they are doing the best that they can. For Mr. Curry to spread the falsehood that the King family is charging schools for the “I Have a Dream” speech is not only wrong, but hurtful and embarrassing to these good people. I can’t imagine how they must feel, growing up with their father taken so prematurely from them, and then receiving calumny, being treated like misers for wanting their patrimony, like anyone else would.
After celebrating another Martin Luther King Day—and a very special one, it being the Second Inauguration of the first black president—is this really the kind of negativity that Dr. King would want? Dr. King marched to bring people together because of their common humanity, not to see his followers divide and conquer themselves. I hope that we can unite our community, our churches, and our country behind the universal humanitarian message of that great preacher, that great American hero, Martin Luther King. His is a message for all people, a message of peace and authentic hope, born of faith.