Since the deaths of their mother, Coretta Scott King, and eldest sibling, Yolanda King, the surviving children of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have engaged in some publicly destructive and embarrassing behavior.
In a plot that weaves like King Lear – lawsuits, accusations and much finger-pointing has set the tone of Dr. Kings legacy as media cameras and bright lights eagerly watch. Brothers Dexter Scott King and Martin Luther King III have tried to oust sister Bernice King from her spot as CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.
The situation reached peak messiness in 2014 when Bernice revealed that her brothers planned to sell their father’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and traveling Bible, last publicly seen the day President Obama took his second oath.
A judge is set to decide this week as the nation is set to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day today—whether Bernice must give up the heirlooms or whether the case will go to trial. Meanwhile, The Bible and medal set in a cold safe-deposit box, the keys in the hands of the judge.
When we think about Dr. King's legacy, it's hard to fathom how greed and power somehow took precedent over the peace and strength that he idolized. It's not a stretch to say that the detrimental and caustic drama on the hands of the bickering siblings could be likened to the blood of their own father – because this is not how he would have wanted things to unfold... especially in his own house.
At the heart of the matter is an effort led to manage the “image” of Dr. King. Perhaps I'm too naive to understand the complex marketing needed for a posthumous icon.
I don't understand how constant lawsuits against King’s documenters, friends and contemporaries protects the great King's image. There's no honor in transforming MLK's effect on humanity into a series of controversies over money mismanagement or selling the rights of his silhouette to boost cellphones sales.
While all this transpires, I wonder how King himself would have handled the situation; and then I also wonder what we – as 2015 Americans – actually took from his suffrage and legacy.
Did we learn anything, or did his eloquence and presence simply make America realize how very foolish we were looking?
Who could have guessed that the King name would dissolve into three children regularly suing and countersuing one another for nearly a decade over who would control the millions that make up “King Inc.,” or the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc.?
Dr. King was foremost a nonviolent pacifist. While he may have said that “Riot is the language of the unheard,” the context of that one line from the lengthy Mike Wallace interview in 1966 has been greatly misconstrued through the decades to fit the needs and wishes of a faction of his “followers.”
Much like his children, violent “protestors” rioted and looted in the name of retribution and “fairness” last year.
King often sympathized with vocal, frustrated and violent protesters that took to the streets in the summer of 1966, but he did not and never would condone the behavior. King, being ever understanding and optimistic, in the next paragraph stated: “My hope is that [we will remain] non-violent. I would hope that we can avoid riots because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive.”
Instead, 2014 proved that Dr. King's wise words are still falling on deaf ears in wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
As America marches forward into 2015, I find myself wanting to be more like Dr. King. There is far too much uncomfortable irony in our society of late, and just like Dr. King, I intend on continuing to peacefully stand up for what is obviously right.
I sincerely hope that we as united Americans can rise up and peacefully shape the future of our great country, without disenfranchising our brothers and sisters in the process.
President Ronald Reagan made this day a federal holiday in 1983 as a celebration of Dr. King’s immeasurable contribution to the United States, and to humankind.
We should take pause to remember Dr. King’s life and work, but also to honor his legacy by making the holiday a day of community service, “a day on, not a day off.”