Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy Is Not Tarnished By His Family, But By The Absence Of Equality In America

It seems that USA Today is concerned with the preservation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy; or at least how his family has profited from it. Their editorial board published an article titled, “Martin Luther King’s Heirs Milk a Legacy” essentially detailed the amount of money the King family has made after his death (an estimate of $50 million) and the “embarrassing” ways which they have gone about reaping those profits. The conclusion? King’s family is tarnishing his legacy and disallowing millions access to his great words.

Now, I cannot claim that I am familiar with which ways are “reasonable” to safeguard and/or profit from the legacy of an important political figure. Perhaps the fact that the King family sued USA Today and several other publications/news organizations for publishing or broadcasting the Civil Rights Leader’s words without paying a licensing fee is inappropriate? I can’t imagine that Dr. King would believe it was, considering the fact that he sued two companies that tried to release unauthorized recordings of his “I Have A Dream” speech. And the family’s feud with Harry Belafonte over documents he allegedly received as a gift from King may be a bit distasteful.  But I most assuredly am certain that no one and nothing has done more to tarnish the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. than America.

After all, it is indeed America — well the American government, anyways — that was found guilty of being a part of a conspiracy to assassinate King in a wrongful-death case filed some years ago. The King family received $100 (yes, one hundred dollars)worth in damages and donated the sum to charity. Furthermore, a recently released letter brought to light the FBI’s threat to discredit King by releasing details about his extramarital affairs. The note also urged him to commit suicide.

Then there are the hundreds of streets in poverty-stricken, underprivileged areas named after the great leader, where researchers at the University of North Texas found that residents in such neighborhoods were $6,000 poorer than residents who lived in a neighborhood without a street named after King. And the dozens of failing, minority schools– like Martin Luther King Elementary School in Lauderhill, Florida, that is completely segregated with 96 percent Black students and three percent Hispanic students. Yet, somehow, the King family’s attempts to safeguard and maximize their assets is somehow the most detrimental to his legacy?

The USA Today article ended with these thought-provoking words:

King’s spirit will live on, but millions of people will be left deaf to his words — a sad footnote as the nation commemorates the great civil rights leader’s birthday.

Such a conclusion fails to acknowledge the reality that MLK’s words have long descended upon deaf ears or have been appropriated and misused by a White agenda that refuses to acknowledge the ongoing plight of Black America in the name of judgement based on character, not skin color. It is not a lack of access to the King’s words due to copyrights enforced by King’s family that allows racism to persist, undefeated in America. But a failure to acknowledge the plight that made his words so profound. A plight that still continues today, with very little publicity or mention. One overshadowed by familial finances on the day meant to commemorate the birth of a leader who built a legacy on and gave his life to the fight for racial equality that has yet to materialize in the United States of America.

The continued absence of that equality does a greater disservice to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy than anything his family can ever do.