ATLANTA—As the public prepares to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, a public squabble among the children of the slain civil rights leader over his legacy has threatened the future of the educational institution founded 38 years ago to promote his teachings.
The battle over control of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, founded by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, shortly after his death in 1968, has pitted two siblings who want to sell the financially struggling center to the National Park Service against two who do not.
The center needs more than $11 million in repairs, and controversies involving alleged misuse of federal grants and over high salaries paid to King’s sons have hurt efforts to raise money for the center.
In recent years, some relatives including another son, Dexter King, chairman of the King Center board, have been accused of commercializing King’s name. Under his leadership, the family has tried to claim ownership of King’s legacy by suing people who use his “I have a dream” speech or his image without permission. At the same time, they marketed King’s story in an animated videotape and sold pencils and coffee mugs bearing his picture.
While the center languished financially, tax records showed Martin King III was paid $150,000 as CEO in 2004 and Dexter King, the chief operating officer and board chairman, was paid $179,933, plus $8,708 in benefits and deferred compensation, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
U.S. evaluating allegations
The newspaper also reported that the Interior Department, which administers grants for the National Park Service, and the Education Department are looking into allegations that the center misused at least $1 million in federal grants.
The Park Service has poured millions of dollars into the site since it was established in 1980, and this year has a budget of $3.8 million. The government also is spending about $4.4 million to restore Ebenezer Church.
A Park Service study found that the King Center is in severe disrepair, including the roof, electrical system and the reflective pool.