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The King Children: Show Me the Money

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The children of Martin Luther King care about one thing: money. That’s why the new African-American history museum at the Smithsonian has no important artifacts from King.

When the museum opens Sept. 24, no major artifacts from the civil rights icon will be on display.

“It’s outrageous,” said Clarence Jones, the former King attorney who filed the copyright for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. “This is the Smithsonian. This is not just another party. This is one of the most important institutions now in the 21st century. And this is probably the greatest civil rights leader in the 20th century. I find it shameful and I’m sad.”

Jones doesn’t blame the museum’s curators, instead focusing on the widely known obstacle historians, filmmakers and others have faced for years: King’s children, Bernice, Martin III and Dexter.

For years, the siblings have blocked media outlets from using King’s words or image without paying what some have described as exorbitant licensing fees. The nonprofit foundation that built the monument to King on the Mall, finished in 2011, paid $800,000. The estate also has sued when they think they are not being sufficiently compensated. That included going after King’s close friend Harry Belafonte when the actor and singer wanted to sell letters and other papers given him by King for charity. Belafonte eventually sued the King estate and won the right to bring the items to auction. In 2013, the King estate, as part of a lawsuit, demanded that Andrew Young, another King confidant and the former mayor of Atlanta, be removed from the board of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change after his foundation used material featuring King in a documentary. The case was dismissed.

The children have taken each other to court repeatedly. Bernice and Martin III once sued Dexter. Dexter sued them back. Most recently, Martin and Dexter sued Bernice over who has the authority to sell the Nobel Peace Prize and Bible. Former President Jimmy Carter was brought in to help mediate an agreement. Last month, a judge settled it instead, clearing the way for the brothers to sell the Nobel Prize and Bible.

Sordid. And not new. When I worked at the Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta, which occupies the same land as the King Center, my colleagues were replete with tales of the sheer venal greed of the King children. It’s sad.

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