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Barbara Reynolds

(TriceEdneyWire.com)—It is incredibly sad to watch how the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, whose life and legacy inspired and changed the lives of millions, is now being used to hawk trucks. The ad for Dodge Ram Trucks used words from one of his most inspiring speeches, “The Drum Major Instinct”, which he delivered on Feb. 4, 1968.

This ad was so unlike Dr. King. If he had involved himself at all in football, he and perhaps even Mrs. King who continued the movement after his death, would have joined the NFL protest movement who have been taking a knee against social injustice.

What next? Dr. King ads for sleeping bags, tennis shoes? If this is not exploitation or “pimping,” what else could this be? And the Super Bowl ad was not the only act that had me holding my breath and my nose, it was a group led by Isaac Farris Jr. the nephew of Dr. King. He showed up at the White House to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday with President Trump, only days after the president announced that Africans had lived in “s…..holes” countries. This show up by a King relative, which was aired continuously, provided cover for a president to claim he was in sync with people of color.

Ironically there was a time when the King family fought valiantly to protect Dr. King’s intellectual property from the very deconstruction we are witnessing today.

In my recent memoir of Coretta Scott King, “My Life, My Love, My Legacy”, I explain the background of how Dr. King’s name, images, writing and speeches that embody his message were the intellectual property that the family spent millions challenging because they felt other entities were either using it for their own gain or maligning his works. There were several suits involved. In one case, for example, with CBS, Dr. King sued and then after his father’s death Dexter sued over an infringement of copyright, which a court of law ruled in their favor.

Mrs. King explained, “The network had included footage of virtually the entire I Have a Dream speech along with other speeches in a five part series that they sold for profit. They used my husband’s words, name, image and speeches to make money, but Martin’s heirs received nothing. It was unfair but a court of law upheld the conclusion, ruling that the copyright protected Martin’s words.

Mrs. King, who died in 2006, had made protecting the integrity of her husband one of her top priorities. “As I shifted into retirement, from the Center, Dexter took on the challenge of safeguarding Martin’s property. The goal was not to make ourselves rich but to pass on a sacred legacy for future generation. ”

Despite the wishes of their parents, the question is often raised are the King siblings protecting the legacy or getting bogged down in “get rich” schemes?

While Bernice King, Dr. King’s only surviving daughter, president of the King Center, took some of the heat for the commercial, in a tweet she quickly distanced herself from any decision-making involving the ad. “Neither myself nor the King Center is the entity that approves the use of Dr. King’s words, imagery in merchandise, entertainment or advertisement, which included the Super Bowl.”

As it was explained to me, Bernice only manages the estate of her mother and Dexter is CEO of the Martin Luther King corporation responsible for approving the licensing for his father’s intellectual property—s bifurcation that is ripe for misunderstandings.

Each of the siblings—Martin Luther King III, Dexter and Bernice reportedly have one vote which means any two of them can cancel out the desires of the other. For example, last year, the King siblings had feuded in court over whether or not their father’s travel Bible and Nobel Peace Prize should be sold to a private bidder. Reports show Dexter and Martin wanted to sell the Bible, Bernice, who argued the property was sacred, did not. She was outvoted and the matter is still being settled out of court.

In an interview last year Dexter told me: “Land is the real estate of the past. Intellectual property is the real estate of the future. If you stand back and let others steal Dad’s material, then you are affecting every minority writer, every songwriter, every composer, every storytelling, every creative person.”

But Dr. King’s legacy commercialized and hoisted on a Ram Truck sloshing through the mud in a super bowl ad does not feel like protection; Just plain old crass exploitation to me.

 

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