February 10, 2005

The King Center

Denny at Grouchy Old Cripple has some harsh words for those people who have inherited the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. bq. What else is going on in Atlanta. What have we here? Cynthia Tucker is going after the King family again. That takes courage in Atlanta. bq. It seems the King Center has fallen on hard times.
In the years after her husband's assassination, Coretta Scott King tapped into a deep wellspring of guilt, regret and longing to raise funds for a memorial: the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. In 1981, she completed a landmark $8 million building, with her husband's tomb as its centerpiece. The King Center was to be a dynamic institution that would keep the dream alive.
But the center never came close to its potential. Now, it is close to collapse. Nearly 40 years after King's death, the facility is crumbling; educational and advocacy programming is nonexistent; staff layoffs have claimed even the janitor.
bq. How could this be?
The King Center has been ruined by the King family.
bq. WTF? How did this happen?
King's heirs have always been at least as interested in self-aggrandizement and material comfort as they have been in advocating civil rights and social justice. Even as fund-raising has lagged, King's adult sons Martin III and Dexter continue to pay themselves six-figure salaries as executives of the institution. They have even mortgaged a nearby landmark, their father's birth home.
bq. Six figure salaries? It seems that the reflecting pool is leaking. The electrical wiring has become a fire hazard. The restrooms have backed up sewers. The place is a mess, but Dexter King makes around $180,000 and Martin III makes about $150,000. Not bad bucks to do nothing. bq. Cynthia continues.
Now that the center is barely able to meet payroll, its staff cut by nearly three-quarters and repairs desperately needed on the leaking roof and the crumbling reflecting pool, King Center advocates want more government funds to help with the estimated $11 million needed for maintenance. According to former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who was once a close confidant of King's and continues to be a staunch defender of his heirs, "A lot of money needs to go into maintenance, and that can't be the responsibility of the family."
bq. Yep! Gotta keep paying Dexter and Marty III the big bucks.
Nonsense. Congress should not set aside another dime for the King Center until the family agrees to deed the facility lock, stock and barrel over to the National Park Service. That's the only way to ensure that taxpayer funds won't be used to subsidize Dexter's apartment out in Malibu. (While Dexter, who fancies himself an actor, still collects a salary and benefits package of $188,000 a year as board chairman and COO, he spends much of his time in Southern California.)
bq. An actor? I guess so. He's acting like he's running the King Center. Unfortunately, he and his brother are running it into the ground but he did have a vision at one time.
When Dexter took over the center in 1995, he stripped away the last vestiges of civil rights crusading to concentrate on profitmongering. He visited the managers of the Elvis Presley estate to try to figure out how he could market his late father as they had marketed the dead singer. The family even fought the National Park Service's proposal to build a visitors' center near the King Center: the family wanted the site to build a for-profit museum a sort of "I Have a Dreamland." (Fortunately, the visitors' center was built.)
bq. I have a Dreamland. I love it. I don't often agree with Cynthia Tucker but she is right on here. She went after the King family a while back when they tried to get $20 million for some of King's papers.
The family will not easily or quickly concede that it ought to turn the King Center over to the National Park Service, which has the managerial expertise to maintain the property. The Kings are notoriously difficult to negotiate with. A few years ago, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) was close to persuading a reluctant Congress to offer the family $20 million for a large stash of King's papers, which would have gone to the Library of Congress. But the family insisted on retaining the copyrights, so Congress backed away.
bq. And she finishes with a final flourish.
Nevertheless, prominent activists ought to open talks with the family on the future of the King Center. If they don't surrender it, the facility will soon be an eyesore and a huge advertisement for the way in which the King heirs have debased the dream.
bq. But they have made a lot of money off of King's legacy. Ya gotta love the King family. He had a dream. They have a scheme (to make money) and it's working. Content of Their Character indeed! I quoted the entire post because excerpting it didn't work - this needed to be read in its entirety. Goes right along with what people like Bill Cosby are saying. (here, here and here) Posted by DaveH at February 10, 2005 12:02 PM