By George E. Curry
In five months, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In 1963, the March was jointly called by the Civil Rights Movement’s “Big Six” – A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, James Farmer and John Lewis.
At this point, it is unclear whether today’s leaders will come together and rally around the theme of jobs and justice as leaders did on August 28, 1963.
Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III are planning a march in Washington. Bernice King has announced a commemoration of the “I Have a Dream” speech at the King Center in Atlanta to observe the 50th anniversary. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. King’s old organization, will be holding its annual convention in the nation’s capital the week of the anniversary and is considering holding an activity.
The foundation that raised more than $100 million to erect the MLK monument on the National Mall – and was forced by King’s children to drop the reference to Dr. King in its name – is still hoping it can participate in a joint celebration by all of the civil rights groups.
Interestingly, the Big Six managed to come together when the Black unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, compared to 3.2 percent for Whites. The unemployment rate for Blacks 20 and older in February was 12.7 percent – nearly double what it was at the time of the March on Washington.
Of course, any discussion about the preservation of Dr. King’s legacy invariably involves his three remaining children – Martin III, Bernice and Dexter. While appreciating the King family’s desire to protect intellectual property left to them by their father, including his “I Have a Dream” speech, I have been critical of their decision to charge what had been known as the Martin Luther King National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. a licensing fee of nearly $3 million to use his name, likeness and quotes in conjunction with a monument erected to him on the National Mall. I also upbraided them for, after making the decision to charge a licensing fee, refusing to extend the agreement, forcing the foundation to change its name (it is now The Memorial Foundation) and limit the scope of the monument-connected activities it had planned to advance Dr. King’s legacy.
Roland Martin and Joe Williams have an interesting article on rolandmartinreports.com about the controversy.
We had a heated discussion Sunday on “Washington Watch with Roland Martin” about the King children’s interaction with Harry Johnson and the group that raised the money for King monument on the Mall, the first to honor an African American. In response to my earlier column on the subject, Armstrong Williams wrote a column claiming I had slandered the King family and “For Mr. Curry to spread the falsehood that the King family is charging schools for the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is not only wrong, but embarrassing to these good people.”
After schooling Armstrong Sunday on the difference between “slander,” defamation that is spoken, and “libel,” which is written, I told him I couldn’t have possibly made that charge because I never used the word “school” anywhere in my column. He waited four months to reply and still didn’t get it right. To his credit, Armstrong acknowledged his error on-air and apologized.
During the program Sunday, Roland said he had spoken with Tricia Harris, a King representative, who said the money paid to the Kings was for corporations that exploited Dr. King’s image and they had not received money from the foundation for using quotes and the likeness of Dr. King.
I said, “She’s lying.”
Harris sent me a note taking exception to my comment and said, “It’s a great American tragedy when influential African Americans attack the King family for protecting and benefiting from Dr. King’s work when he set it up that way.”
Actually, King, Inc. was created after Dr. King’s assassination. Therefore, he did not “set it up that way.” Second, the licensing agreement does in fact extract a fee from the mall foundation in exchange for using his likeness on materials and quotes at the memorial.
Let’s be clear: No one is objecting to the King siblings profiting from their father’s intellectual properties. The issue is, unlike the descendants of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, they are trying to personally profit from a national monument that honors their father and the struggle he led.
David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer, told the Roland Martin and Joe Williams: “It’s not as if (King, Inc.) is using any of this income for charitable good deeds. We’ve seen none of that whatsoever. It appears to be simply self-enrichment for a small number of people.”
As great as he was, the March on Washington wasn’t about Dr. King. It was about jobs and freedom. Sadly, 50 years later, we need a similar march that unites our leaders around those same issues.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.