WASHINGTON – The family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has charged the foundation building a monument to the 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 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. The monument 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.
Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which gave $1 million to the project in 2007, said the group was not aware of the licensing arrangement but is now asking that its gift be used only to support the memorial's construction.
"We think the memorial is an important and overdue recognition, but we really don't want to get involved with relationships with the family and their estate," Rimel said.
Charon Darris, a New York banker and alumnus of Morehouse College, King's alma mater, said he raised about $1,000 for the memorial project with friends and did not have a problem with the fees.
"I don't think that's an unreasonable amount," he said. "Ultimately, the kids lost their father, the wife lost her husband."