King Family Takes $800K Bounty From Monument

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The family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has charged the foundation building a monument to the U.S. civil rights leader on the National Mall about $800,000 for the use of his words and image – an arrangement one leading scholar says King would have found offensive.

The memorial – including a 28-foot (8.5-meter) sculpture depicting King emerging from a chunk of granite – is being paid for almost entirely with private money in a fundraising campaign led by the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. It will be turned over to the National Park Service once it is complete.

The foundation has been paying the King family for the use of his words and image in its fundraising materials. The family has not charged for the use of King’s likeness in the monument itself.

“I don’t think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family … I don’t think any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington,” said Cambridge University historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King. “One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny.”

King would have been “absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children,” Garrow said.

According to financial documents reviewed by The Associated Press, the foundation paid $761,160 in 2007 to Intellectual Properties Management Inc., an entity run by King’s family. Documents also show a “management” fee of $71,700 was paid to the family estate in 2003.

In a statement to the AP, Intellectual Properties Management said proceeds from the licensing agreement go to the King Center in Atlanta, where King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are entombed. The statement said the arrangement was made out of concern that fundraising for the monument would undercut donations to the King Center.

“Many individuals believe all ‘King’ fundraising initiatives are interrelated and don’t donate to the King Center, thinking they have already supported it by donating to the memorial,” the statement said.

King’s son Dexter serves as the center’s chairman, and his cousin Isaac Farris Jr. is president and chief executive officer. King’s two other surviving children, Martin Luther King III and Bernice King, are lifetime members of the board of directors.

A review of the King’s Center financial documents shows that public support for the nonprofit organization did decline each year from 2004 to 2006, while fundraising for the Washington memorial was under way. More recent tax returns were not available.

The monument will be on the banks of the Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and would be the first major tribute to the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner outside Atlanta.

The foundation hopes to begin building the $120 million memorial this year. It has raised $104 million of that so far, including $10 million from Congress. It has tapped charitable foundations, Fortune 500 companies and individuals, sending letters to more than 1 million potential donors.

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