King Children Initiate Lawsuit Against Top MLK Aide, Andrew Young

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  • Wow, we can certainly see how this can become a very sticky situation: You have the family of an icon battling with colleagues who worked diligently, side by side with that icon, when the icon was alive. Now the question is, well, let’s let Mr. Young pose it:

    “The question is whose legacy is it? And I agree that it’s their legacy, and that the copyright images of their father need to be protected by them. But I also feel that I’m doing the same thing for nothing and I will not give up my right to the legacy for their right to the legacy,” Andrew Young said recently in an interview with The Associated Press.

    Now let’s go back to what we think is the beginning.

    Dr. Martin Luther King and Young, a civil rights activist and top aide to King, shared a common goal: the tireless fight for civil rights. Side by side they met, talked, shared, slept, dreamed and more. Now, the family of the slain civil rights leader has put that relationship in jeopardy. They have an issue with Young, and as a result, have issued a lawsuit.

    The points of legal contention are who has the rights to King’s words and image, and how far do those rights extend. Andrew Young is facing the wrath over footage of King that shows up in a series produced by his foundation. And Young is not alone in these legal negotiations. Actor Harry Belafonte also has issues with the children; albeit in a separate case, where he, too, is debating ownership of some King documents.

    See how messy this can be?

    At the heart of the conflict is the lawsuit filed by King’s sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King, who are chairman and president/CEO control their father’s estate. This includes his image and his papers, versus The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which is run by King’s daughter, Bernice, where Young serves as a member of the board.

    The estate’s suit requests that the Center be stopped from using King’s image and likeness unless certain conditions are met. Among those conditions is that Young be removed from the Center’s board of directors over allegations that he used footage of King in a documentary without permission.

    Not taking sides here but, does it appear strange that King’s sons don’t want their father’s “image and likeness” to be used at an organization MLK actually started, and is now run by his daughter…conditions be darned?

    The lawsuit was filed Aug. 28, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

    Hmm, wasn’t the family actually involved in a bus accident that day? When did they have time to file a lawsuit?

    Young, a King confidante who helped coordinate civil rights efforts throughout the South, takes issue about his use of footage in which both he and King appear.

    “They said I infringed on their copyright. Well, I don’t think so, because I think it was my right — it’s mine also.”

    See, this is the “messy” part because Young was in the video too!

    But despite facing legal action from people he has been close to for years, Young was philosophical.

    “I understand the reason for it. I think it’s the way things go, and the way probably they ought to go,” the former Atlanta mayor, congressman and United Nations ambassador said. “We took many cases to court, simply to have the doctrines clarified and to have a court consider the merits.”

    A lawyer for the King estate, Miles Alexander, declined to comment on any litigation. Bernice King could not be reached for comment.

    Hmm…That’s probably best, but really, how long can one run and hide from an issue that probably won’t just disappear?

    Then there is the question of “intent.” Why is a lawsuit happening anyway? Jelani Cobb, history professor and director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut, has his own theory on that.

    “The legal action Dr. King was concerned about was about broadening access,” Cobb said. “The legal action that we see most prominently from the King children is about broadening their own financial possibilities and protecting their copyright.”

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