The Shakedown at the King Monument
The builders of the memorial paid almost $800,000 to the King family to use his words and pictures.
Another battle involved a $1.4 million book deal with the Penguin Group for Coretta Scott King's ghostwritten memoir, during which Dexter went to court to compel his siblings to turn over personal papers and photos for the book. Bernice and Martin III resisted, insisting that their mother had decided before she died that she no longer wanted Barbara Reynolds as the ghostwriter.
After Coretta King's death in 2006, an investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that Dexter had received pay from the King Center in Atlanta averaging $165,000 a year. The newspaper also found that the center had paid a total of $4.2 million to Intellectual Properties. At this point, the center itself was in complete disarray, needing $11 million in repairs, according to the Park Service. It had also discontinued nonviolent-social-change training and was subject to intense criticism from former King colleagues.
None of this diminishes the importance of the King Memorial, but this writer, anyway, wishes that even at risk of delay, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation had called young Dexter out on his shameless profiteering.
As Atlanta columnist Cynthia Tucker put it back in 2001 when Dexter King sold to Cingular Wireless the right to use Dr. King's words along with those of Kermit the Frog, "Dexter King, second son of the famous civil rights crusader, had a dream. He wanted to turn his father's legacy into a cash machine like Elvis Presley's. So six years ago, he made two visits to Graceland, Presley's Memphis home, to find out how to turn his dream into dollars. And now the younger King's vision is finally taking shape."
And his vision, Dexter told Slate Magazine's David Plotz, is not to accumulate great wealth but to protect and extend his father's legacy using today's tools: "His media was marching. We are substituting the means of today -- CD-ROMs, the Internet, books -- to get the message out ... Our intentions were not for profit. The profit happens to be a byproduct of doing the right thing."
That still doesn't explain why the foundation that built the monument on the Mall had to pay nearly $800,000 to "do the right thing."
Charles E. Cobb Jr. was a field organizer in the 1960s for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.