|This 3-foot maquette depicts the final version of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.|
Kin charges group building memorial for use of King's words and image
WASHINGTON - The family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has charged the foundation building a monument to the civil rights leader on the National Mall about $800,000 for the use of his words and image, an arrangement one leading scholar says King would have found offensive.
The memorial, including a 28-foot sculpture depicting King emerging from a chunk of granite, is being paid for almost entirely with private money in a fund-raising campaign led by the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. It will be turned over to the National Park Service once it is complete.
The foundation has been paying the King family for the use of his words and image in its fund-raising materials. The family has not charged for the use of King's likeness in the monument itself.
"I don't think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family . . . I don't think any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington," said Cambridge University historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King. "One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny." King would have been "absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children," Garrow said.
According to financial documents reviewed by the Associated Press, the foundation paid $761,160 in 2007 to Intellectual Properties Management Inc., an entity run by King's family. Documents also show a "management" fee of $71,700 was paid to the family estate in 2003.
In a statement to the AP, Intellectual Properties Management said proceeds from the licensing agreement go to the King Center in Atlanta, where King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are entombed. The statement said the arrangement was made out of concern that fund-raising for the monument would undercut donations to the King Center.
"Many individuals believe all 'King' fund-raising initiatives are interrelated and don't donate to the King Center, thinking they have already supported it by donating to the memorial," the statement said. King's son Dexter serves as the center's chairman, and his cousin Isaac Farris Jr. is president and chief operating officer. King's two other surviving children, Martin Luther King III and Bernice King, are lifetime members of the board of directors.
A review of the King's Center financial documents shows that public support for the nonprofit organization did decline each year from 2004 to 2006, while fund-raising for the Washington memorial was underway. The center has filed an extension for its 2007 tax return.
The monument will be on the banks of the Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
For years, King's family has fiercely protected his legacy, suing for a share of the proceeds from the use of his words and images in merchandise and publications. In the 1990s, the family reached settlements with USA Today and CBS over their use of King's "I Have a Dream" speech without permission. A federal appeals court ruled in 1999 during the CBS case that the speech was not in the public domain.
But historians and the National Park Service said they are not aware of any other case in which builders of a national monument had to license the image of their subject. Bill Line, National Park Service spokesman, said licensing fees are "unfamiliar territory" for a memorial that will eventually be turned over to the government. The Park Service was unaware of the fees but plans to discuss their potential implications, he said.
Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, said that the fees were not a burden and that the foundation has a good relationship with the King family.
"The memorial we are building will be the people's memorial and will belong to the people of the United States," Johnson, a Houston lawyer said.