So the children of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- sons Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, and their sister, Rev. Bernice King -- are squabbling because the boys want to sell a few items from their dad's "stuff," and sissy thinks that's a bad idea. When I first read about the dispute, I rolled my eyes back and sighed despondently, as though I had heard about the loss of something or someone that was near and dear to me. Then, after a couple moments of reflection, I said of this repugnant family rift, "So What!" I then pulled up the O'Jays singing their 1975 hit: For the love of money/People will steal from their mother/For the love of money, people will rob their own brother.
There is nothing new about the King siblings' money grab, except, of course, it's happening in a famous family that lives in a glass house from which they have been chucking rocks with dollar signs on them since the days when most of the symbolism of the Civil Rights Movement were converted for financial gain.
It seems just like yesterday when the children of the man who gave to charity "every penny" of the $54,000 he received for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize went to war with the National Park Service because they wanted cash for his likeness to be used on the shrine to him on the National Mall. When Dexter Scott King took over the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the first thing he proposed was to repackage the site into what one Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial writer called "a sort of I Have a Dreamland, to profit from a Disneyesque [amusement park] trip through the civil rights movement."
Less than a year ago, one of Dr. King's most ardent supporters -- entertainer Harry Belafonte -- was sued by the King siblings when he attempted to sell several documents given to him by Dr. King. The King estate, run by Dexter, stopped the sale, alleging the documents did not belong to Belafonte. Belafonte countersued, saying he chose to convert the papers to money as a fundraiser for a community organization. Ownership of the materials is still a legal matter. The King children are no exception to the rule in a country where popular television programs like Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, and the Antique Road Show depict our collective passion with monetizing anything.
After all, back in the day, some trusted friends of Jesus Christ cast lots for his garments. There is nothing new when an American family splits when the time comes to divide up the stuff left behind by the dearly departed. The landscape of our material-driven culture is littered with families just like the Kings of Atlanta: where deep chasms and gorges mark the otherwise sacred spots when money turns family values into nightmares. Martin Luther III and Dexter Scott King are, therefore, pretty normal Americans who are trying to live out the American Dream -- which is slightly different than The Dream their father had.
Alex Haley's family was no different than the children of Dr. King. Twenty-two years ago, around this same time of year, Black History Month 1992, Mr. Haley's family set up flea market-like displays on his farm outside Knoxville, Tennessee and sold at auction the tangible legacy that Mr. Haley left, including the farm, the Emmy Awards he garnered for Roots, to include the hat Chicken George wore, and, among other things, the handwritten drafts of the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ironically, the groundbreaking dramatic miniseries, Roots, traced the Haley family's origins. A pair of Bostonian shoes I had given Mr. Haley as a gift went for $5.
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts is so overwhelmed by Martin III and Dexter's cash grab that he is calling for "an offering for the King Children." Let's do so while listening to the O'Jays hit: -- "For the love of money."