Appointee Plans Big Changes for King Center

Steve Visser, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 20, 2010

A court-appointed outsider plans to make Atlanta’s King Center live up to its full potential by removing the children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and their allies from control.

A court appointed custodian says he plans to restructure the King Center, shown here with a poster of Martin Luther King Jr. in the window.

Brant Sanderlin A court appointed custodian says he plans to restructure the King Center, shown here with a poster of Martin Luther King Jr. in the window.

Custodian Terry M. Giles believes the underused center on Auburn Avenue honoring the martyred civil rights leader should be on par with a presidential library and should continue its original mission of using nonviolence to bring social change around the world.

To accomplish that, Giles told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he plans to restructure the bylaws and governance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change–an institution mired in conflict for more than 15 years–to ensure a national board controls it rather than the King family.

Giles said he hopes to persuade King’s heirs–Martin, Dexter and Bernice King–and their relatives to support creating a diversified board that can raise tens of millions of dollars and hire top-flight management, but he said he has court authority to act unilaterally.

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{snip} The center originally started with a 35-member board and had prominent people from around the nation and Atlanta, but many resigned and others were not reappointed after Dexter King became chairman in 1994.”

Dexter King wanted to build an interactive museum at the center–which didn’t come to pass–and under his stewardship the nonviolence and social activism training programs that had been so dominant faded, Young said.

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Giles, a prominent Houston lawyer and businessman, became the new power broker at the King Center because of a family feud. In 2008, Martin and Bernice King filed a lawsuit accusing Dexter of mismanaging and looting King Inc.–the family corporation that controls Martin Luther King’s copyrighted material, image and intellectual property, and which has generated millions of dollars.

Dexter King–head of King Inc. and chairman of the King Center–fired back with a lawsuit that accused his brother of misusing the assets of the King Center, a nonprofit corporation that Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow, founded in 1974.

Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville appointed Giles as part of the settlement of the lawsuit.

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Critics have long charged that the center largely served to employ King family members. Martin King was once the president with a $150,000 salary, until removed by his family at a board meeting in 2004. Dexter King is currently the board chairman and chief operating officer, with a salary and deferred income of $197,000. His cousin Isaac Farris Jr. is the chief executive officer, with a salary and deferred income totaling nearly $96,000, according to tax forms the nonprofit filed in 2009 for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

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In the tax document, the most recent filed, Dexter King, 49, maintains he spends 40 hours a week on center business from his home in Malibu, Calif.

The tax document also shows the center paid $696,163 to Dexter King’s company, Intellectual Properties Management, as a management consultant for 2007-08 fiscal year. The fee in the past has often been more than $1 million. The King Center has maintained the money is to repay IPM for salaries it paid center employees, currently numbering about 20.

Giles told the AJC the IPM payments appeared to be legitimate but resulted in a lack of transparency that created family friction and fueled public suspicions.

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Bernice and Martin King alleged in court documents that their brother also might be under investigation by the inspector general for the federal Department of Education for misusing a $600,000 federal grant. The education department would not confirm whether there was an investigation.

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Disciples of Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence, including Dorothy Cotton and Bernard Lafayette Jr., both of whom once headed the King Center’s programs, said the center had used that philosophy for everything from helping end conflict in families and among street gangs to teaching neighborhood activists how to get their share of public dollars.

Coretta King also envisioned the center as housing her husband’s papers–which wound up at Morehouse College after the city of Atlanta helped organize their purchase from the family for $30 million–and continuing his teachings, said Lynn Cothren, a longtime aide to King’s widow. But she wanted to support her son’s ideas for the center, Cothren said.

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Giles said the center should serve as an archive for material related to King and the civil rights movement and as a location for national and international conferences. More importantly, it should renew its commitment to teaching nonviolent tactics and organizing.

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