Thursday, September 5, 2013

MLK's children head back to court over King Center's use of his image, likeness, and memorabilia

Posted By on Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 3:36 PM

Bernice King speaks at the 2012 King Day Observance at Ebenezer Baptist Church
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Bernice King speaks at the 2012 King Day Observance at Ebenezer Baptist Church
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s two sons last week continued the family's ongoing legal battle and sued their sister Bernice King for using the intellectual property associated with their father's image and work.

MLK's estate, overseen by Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, sued their sister on August 28, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where the civil rights activist gave his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. His sons asked a Fulton County Superior Court judge to stop the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which Bernice oversees, from using the civil rights leader's image, likeness, and memorabilia. The Associated Press' Kate Brumback explains:

The estate in March 2007 granted a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to the center to use King's name, likeness and image and to publicly exhibit his writings and spoken words at the center, the complaint says.

The estate supports the center's work and has been its largest financial contributor for the past decade, but the relationship between the two "has recently become strained, resulting in a total breakdown in communication and transparency," the complaint says.

An audit and review of the center's practices and procedures conducted by the estate in April revealed that the care and storage of the physical property is unacceptable as it could be damaged by fire, water, mold, mildew or theft, the complaint says. After failed meetings and communications, the estate sent a letter to the center on Aug. 10 saying it would terminate the license at the end of a 30-day notice period, the complaint says.

According to the estate, the King Center could avoid the termination if it: places Bernice King on administrative leave until the audit is completed; gives the estate the temporary authority to approve how memorabilia should be cared for; and removes Alvade King, MLK's niece, and former Mayor Andrew Young from its board.

Bernice King, who was unaware of the legal action until this week, told the AJC that the lawsuit's timing was "disappointing." She also said she was with her brothers celebrating the march's anniversary, but hadn't spoken with them since then.

"I don't think people doubt we love each other," Bernice King, who has run the MLK Center since 2012, said. "People are looking at the children of the proponent of non-violence and saying this shouldn't be happening. ... Families struggle. We are not immune to it. We love each other, but there is no secret that we have different issues."

The court battle isn't the first among MLK's children. In 2008, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III sued Dexter King over the how he was running the estate and allegedly refusing to show documents regarding its operations. The family eventually settled out of court.

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