There are good arguments on both sides. But as is often the case, my column this week is concentrated on informing readers about the deeper implications of a difference of opinion -- in this case not among the public at large, but within a family.
American conservatives may be startled to learn that for years the King family has been the butt of many editorial attacks from its hometown Atlanta newspaper. This is doubly odd when you consider that this newspaper is known far and wide as one that overwhelmingly reflects the kinds of left-leaning, Democratic-Party philosophical and political positions held by Dr. King. Plus, the newspaper played a historic role in supporting King and his mission while he was alive.
As for liberals, many are often appalled that the King family has -- heaven forbid -- asked for money when their father's image has been used for commercial purposes. The Kings have argued that MLK's writings and speeches are intellectual property that belongs to the family -- as would any property of deceased spouses or parents to their heirs.
Rather than take sides over the matter of the King Center, I'll instead point out what is a more important story that springs from the current family disagreement.
To the credit of Dr. King, and maybe even more to Mrs. King, all of their children withstood the titanic pressures of growing up during their father's grand and dangerous career, and became productive citizens.
While many have claimed that they have misused the center for their own financial benefit, the King siblings are, at minimum, no worse than other children of legends -- including some former presidents -- whose fathers' libraries and offices cost the taxpayers money, and who used government services to make their lives easier.
I admire most about the King children that they have managed to avoid maligning one another in public. This hasn't always been easy. Some of their spats have led to explanatory press conferences, and, this year, to Martin III and other family members being left off the King Day program, and not even appearing on the dais at church.
Is this a power struggle? Yes. Is this about money? In large measure, yes. Is this situation as common as families themselves? You bet.
I'm partly glad to see Dr. King's children having a vigorous "corporate war" over their stewardship of his legacy. Besides demonstrating that they, too, are human, it more importantly shows that they also participate in the constant, but necessary tug-of-war between our systems of private enterprise and government.
Personally, I have always applauded their continuing efforts to claim ownership of their father's intellectual property, and their attempts to sell or license it. That's America.
Most importantly, the King family has acted unlike many self-declared spokespersons for the civil rights movement by declining to spew words and or commit deeds of hatred or bigotry.
They have also differed from many celebrities or their families by not ruining theirs or others' lives with destructive personal behavior or lawbreaking.
Race relations in America remain a good distance from where they should be. But King Day -- painful as it can be for MLK's family -- demonstrates by their travails that more and more Americans share common aspirations and conflicts. That's checkered progress, but progress that is real, and not just rhetorical. It makes America stronger.
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