Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "the true measure of a man is not the decisions he makes in time of comfort but the choices he makes in difficult times." The weight of that quote could not have been more felt than on his own children these past few days. The choice they decided to make -- to auction of some of his most personal memos and documents -- has been debated and debased in many circles of the Civil Rights Community because the collection could have ended up in the hands of any institution that shoveled the asking price in front of the King family. Not to mention the echos of gasp the family was asking for the originally written speeches and letters -- an estimated $15 to $30 million dollars.
To place that in context, the Nixon family was awarded about $30 million dollars for the collection of secret tapes and written documents the former disgraced President held in his position after he was forced to leave office.
Having placed that context into the equation, I believe it is unfair to criticize the King family for pushing such a high bid. Why shouldn't the most intimate documents of Martin Luther King carry such a high asking price? Are some subconsciously saying that the letters of an African-American don't deserve to be placed in the highest of auction prices? We certainly hope not.
But luckily the sign of the Apocalypse has been adverted with the news that Morehouse College -- King's Undergraduate alma mater -- has formed a coalition with other Atlanta Universities to purchase the collection and keep it where many -- including former King aide Andrew Young -- said it should remain.
But while that solution has smothered some of the uproar over King's legacy supervision, it has not quieted the criticism overall. And honestly, legitimately so.
The King legacy is being threatened by mismanagement of the King Center and poor decisions by administrators who have been trusted to keep the legacy and memory strong. The King Center in Atlanta is in some $5 million dollars in debt and the family has placed a strangle-hold on the public history -- so much so that one of the best Civil Rights Era documentaries, Eyes on the Prize, has stopped broadcast because of the seemingly high fees it was asked to repay to the King Estate.
The choices being made are clearly not being made in the best interest of the legacy. But the real question that most people avoid is why shouldn't the King family use their father's legacy to better themselves?
It is well known that King himself, through social pressures, did all he could to deflect those criticisms of himself. He gave away his speaking fees, and two-thirds of his Nobel Peace Prize funds to keep the movement alive more than he did to keep food on the table of his family. The sad reality is his family suffered while society gained -- and while we are better off because of it, why should the family not be.
No one is second-guessing Jesse Jackson for "cashing"in on his association to King... that association has given Jackson credibility -- but what has it given the family?
I for one won't stand with the troves of critics who say the King family is selling out. I say, it's about time they sold something. I'd rather the money go into the pockets of those who had to live most of their lives without a father -- than those who wish to claim illegitimately the father of the Civil Rights Movement.
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