I knew Martin Luther King Jr. decently well, at least as much as one can know a person who had already become both prophet and hero. I fundraised for his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And I also tried to interest him and his savvy and cynical consigliere Andrew Young in the tragic plight of the Ibos of Nigeria, victims of Nigerian imperialism, an augury of what was later to develop almost all over Black Africa. (They were not interested, just as J. William Fulbright was not interested, the difference being that the Arkansas senator couldn't even raise an eyebrow for the sufferings of what he called "pickaninnies.") Yes, I also assigned myself the task of warning King about the communists in his circle, a task that had already been taken up more authoritatively and authentically by his mentor Bayard Rustin--but, alas, with not much greater effect.
Still, King was the conscience of the western world in the second half of the twentieth century. He knew what the real issues were. (King was also a Zionist, and he grasped the identity between anti-Israel politics and anti-semitic ranting.) Dr. King took us to the mountaintop and led us to see beyond.
After more than four decades, King's stature will command a notable spot on the Washington Mall. And, according to the Associated Press, his three children will command a notable fee for allowing the sponsoring foundation to erect the sculpture. In fact, the fee is more than $800,000. After many other millions, I suspect.
David Garrow, King's pre-eminent biographer, commented that the civil rights leader would have been "absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children." It is clear that King, like other great men, was not a very good father. Actually, he left his children a mess. They don't work, for example. They live off their father's face and words. You see, every time some television documentarian quotes "I have a dream..." a check is paid to Intellectual Properties Management, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the ne'er do well kids, now nearing 50. Virtually every time Dr. King's image is shown on anything the children reap rewards.
Dexter King. the eldest child of Dr. King and of his sad and portentous wife, Coretta, now deceased, is selling his Malibu house for something like $3.5 million. It was not bought from real earnings. Oh, I forgot: the siblings are in the courts fighting law suits against each other. About what? about money, of course, their ill-gotten gains.
Celebrity children are often troubled. So what else is new? We do not expect good parenting from great men and women.