Feuding, Fighting and Fussing: King Siblings Square Off Over Father’s Biopic

The squabbling descendants of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King: from left to right, Dexter, Bernice and Martin III (Courtesy: Brown Man Thinking Hard)

The squabbling descendants of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King: from left to right, Dexter, Bernice and Martin III (Courtesy: Brown Man Thinking Hard)

It is over money.

But it’s more than that. It’s about power and control.

It used to be Yolanda and Dexter versus Martin III and Bernice. Now that Yolanda is no longer with us, it’s primarily Dexter versus his other siblings. Dexter, however, would rather talk through his lawyers, while Martin III and Bernice bitch and moan over the airwaves as they did on Roland Martin a couple of nights ago.

These two are angry not just because Dexter made a deal with Steven Spielberg to film the biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., but really because Coretta Scott King made Dexter the executor for the estate of his father. I’m sure there is a reason why Coretta made this decision, because it stands to reason that Martin III and Bernice certainly haven’t been living up to the politics of their father. Martin III and Bernice, it appears, are under the thumb of black conservative Bishop Eddie Long, who feels that Martin King tilted the black church too far towards social activism and rather than proselytizing (and filling their pockets). Martin III and Bernice want to use the money and their parents’ legacy for their own pursuits and aims, which in contrast to their father’s, seem rather questionable.

It was Long who influenced Bernice to have her mother’s funeral at his megachurch, to turn away singer/activist Harry Belafonte, who supported her family in those first terrible years, from saying final words over Coretta, and to stymie the surviving civil rights hierarchy from saying their goodbyes to the woman who tried to keep Martin’s spirit alive. It’s Bernice who went against her mother while alive, and with her cousin Alveda, marched against gay rights and gay marriage, even as rumors swirled that she is a closeted lesbian. It’s Martin III who had to be upbraided by his mother for making homophobic remarks, and who is seen as much less of an activist and more a conservative than his parents. It’s been rumored that Bernice dragged her mother to Mexico–not for alternative cancer treatments–but to push the dying woman to change her will.

The King children as we knew them on the day of their fathers funeral.  From left to right, Yolanda 12, her uncle Rev. A.D. King, Bernice, 5, who lay on her mothers lap in another iconic photo; their mother Coretta Scott King; Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and sons Dexter, 7, and Martin Luther King III, 10 (Courtesy: Many Blessing to Come)

The King children as we knew them on the day of their father's funeral. From left to right, Yolanda 12, her uncle Rev. A.D. King, Bernice, 5, who lay on her mother's lap in another iconic photo; their mother Coretta Scott King; the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and sons Dexter, 7, and Martin Luther King III, 10 (Courtesy: Many Blessing to Come)

That being said, Dexter, Bernice and Martin III are not particularly extraordinary people, with the exception of their last name, which makes them and their avarice all the more banal. I don’t blame them for capitalizing on the connection, because they experienced financial hardship as well as the loss of their father during their childhoods. The Movement and strangers took him away from them and their mother for long periods of time. They may have only seen him on television. He was physically attacked, not once but several times. Perhaps one of them even picked up the phone to hear a death threat against them. Then he was murdered.

I can see how the Kings’ greed–for that’s what it is–is akin to that of a shopaholic’s roaring addiction to buy, buy, buy, only to find that the things and services doesn’t take the place of the real problem. In this case, it’s their long-gone father. I can also see how their father’s loss would make them jealous of the time he spent with the surviving allies in The Struggle, time that he could have given to them and their mother. And make them blaming, contentious, and conservative. The money is what Martin Jr. would have given to them: affection, hugs, kisses, discipline, advice, time. It’s well-nigh bottomless, this loss; and the shakedowns resulting are becoming more and more reprehensible:

The King family has long been criticized for insisting on payment for the use of their father’s name, image, speeches and virtually anything that they can claim for themselves or their foundation. The family reached a new low this week when it was revealed that they had been paid more than $800,000 by the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation for the use of King’s image and words on the planned King memorial on Washington’s Mall.

I think that blacks should have refrained from expecting a lot from the King men and women (as with the daughters of Malcolm X). They are, at the very least survivors. I can see how it could not be helped: that we wanted to see the children strike out and lead folks again as their father did in the old days. They do not have their father’s history. The mismanagement of the King Center, which includes the tombs of their father and mother, the controversy of how their father’s likeness has been used commercially, the selling of their father’s documents and other memorabilia, and finally, their putting personal business put out in the street has tried the patience of family friends, relatives, and observers. What’s it going to take to make these people happy?

Every deal that is struck by Dexter King, whether it is with EMI or to Dreamworks also enriches them, but Bernice and Martin III aren’t satisfied with the pickings. They want what Dexter’s got. For example, a $1.4 million dollar book deal was scuttled because Bernice, as executor of her late sister’s and her mother’s estate, refused to hand over certain letters in time for the deadline. She contended that Coretta had changed her mind about having Barbara Reynolds write the biography and that Dexter had concluded the book deal with Penguin without hers and her brother’s input. More to it, she claimed that there were some things that the public weren’t meant to know about her parents, and that the letters were off-limits. Really? What is there to hide about love? That’s the point of biography, to present people as they truly are, which includes humanizing them. Bernice also claimed that she has yet to account for all of her mother’s effects. Bernice and Martin III also have another pending lawsuit with CEO Dexter, charging that he has misappropriated funds, that the corporation is in disarray, and that he has refused to open the books about the operation of King, Inc.

Steven Spielberg is hoping to produce the biography, but it is not known when this will occur. If anything, he wants peace in the valley, or else.

DreamWorks Studios, which announced Tuesday it planned an epic on King, said Wednesday it needs “unity” among family members to proceed. The studio suggested the civil rights leader would want his children to quit bickering.

“The purpose of making a movie about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to tell a great story which could bridge distances and bring people together,” the studio said in a statement.

“We remain committed to pursuing a film chronicling Martin Luther King’s life provided that there is unity in the family so we can make a film about unity in our nation. We believe this is what Dr. King would have wanted.”

What I want to ask is, how much money do they need for the rest of their lives? What do they want to reserve for the King Center? Will these documents and memorabilia be used against King’s legacy, as it is reported that Bernice, her brother and their supporters wish to do? Quite frankly, the Kings are fighting over a dead man’s bones for how much it can give back, and it is becoming sickening. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not out for the money. He practically gave his life for an ideal that included his children. $30 million, $800,000, $300,000: when will enough be enough for Dexter, Martin III and Bernice to finally to move on from–and move off of–their father?

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~ by blksista on May 22, 2009.

 
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