Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III in New York City, in 2007.
Born October 23, 1957 (1957-10-23) (age 54)
Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Human rights advocate
Community activist
Known for Son of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Former Head of SCLC
Parents Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King III (born October 23, 1957) is an American human rights advocate and community activist. He is the eldest son and oldest living child of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. His siblings are Dexter Scott King, Rev. Bernice Albertine King, and the late Yolanda Denise King. King attended The Galloway School and went on to Morehouse College, which was the same school his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather attended. He received his B.A. in Political Science from Morehouse in 1979[1].



Early life and career

Martin Luther King III was born on October 23, 1957 to human rights advocate Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. His mother had reservations about naming him after his famous father, "realizing the burdens it can create for the child,"[2] but King, Jr. always wanted to name his son Martin Luther III. He was raised in Vine City, an urban neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia, and was ten years old when his father was assassinated. King lived with his mother in his childhood home until his adulthood. As an adult, King was a shy man who rarely socialized, and friends have claimed he tends to overwork, in part due to the pressure to live up to his father's name; one friend, Rev. E. Randel T. Osburn, said of King, "Watching him is like watching somebody trying to outrun themselves. It’s like there’s a ghost in front of him and he’s always trying to catch it."[2] Martin Luther King III is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity as was his father.

On June 26, 1985 Martin Luther King III was arrested, along with his mother and sister, Bernice A. King, while taking part in an anti-apartheid protest at the Embassy of South Africa in Washington, D.C.[3]

King served as an elected county commission member in Fulton County, Georgia, the county encompassing most of Atlanta, from 1987 to 1993. He was defeated for re-election after revealing that he owed the federal government more than $200,000 in back taxes and fines.[4] Also in 1993, King helped found the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., the company that manages the license of Martin Luther King Jr.'s image and intellectual property. King remains a commissioner in the company as of 2008.[5]

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

In 1997, King was unanimously elected to head the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization founded by his father. King was the fourth president of the group, which sought to fight police brutality and start new local chapters during the first years of his tenure.[4] Under King's leadership, the SCLC held hearings on police brutality, organized a rally for the 37th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech and launched a successful campaign to change the Georgia state flag, which previously featured a large Confederate cross.[2]

Within only a few months of taking the position, however, King was criticized by the SCLC board for alleged inactivity. He was accused of failing to answer correspondence from the board and take up issues important to the organization. The board also felt he failed to demonstrate against national issues the SCLC previously would have protested, like the disenfranchisement of black voters in the Florida election recount or time limits on welfare recipients implemented by then-President Bill Clinton.[4] King was further criticized for failing to join the battle against AIDS, allegedly because he feels uncomfortable talking about condoms.[2] He also hired Lamell J. McMorris, an executive director who, according to The New York Times, "rubbed board members the wrong way."[4]

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference suspended King from the presidency in June 2001, concerned that he was letting the organization drift into inaction. The group's national chairman at the time, Claud Young, sent a June 25 letter to King which read, "You have consistently been insubordinate and displayed inappropriate, obstinate behavior in the (negligent) carrying out of your duties as president of SCLC."[4] King was reinstated only one week later after promising to take a more active role. Young said of the suspension, "I felt we had to use a two-by-four to get his attention. Well, it got his attention all right."[4] After he was reinstated, King prepared a four-year plan outlining a stronger direction for the organization, agreeing to dismiss McMorris and announcing plans to present a strong challenge to the Bush administration in an August convention in Montgomery, Alabama.[4] In a rally on August 5, 2001, in Montgomery, SCLC leaders, including Rev. Joseph Lowery, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and Rev. Jesse Jackson all pledged their support for King. "I sit beside my successor, to assure him of my love and support," said Rev. Lowery.[6] King said he also planned to concentrate on racial profiling, prisoners' rights and closing the digital divide between whites and blacks.[2] However, King also suggested the group needed a new approach, stating, "We must not allow our lust for 'temporal gratification' to blind us from making difficult decisions to effect future generations."[4]

Later career

King left the SCLC in January, 2004 to serve as president and chief executive officer of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change with his brother, Dexter Scott King serving as chairman. Scholars like Taylor Branch have criticized the King siblings for neglecting a large cache of historical documents at the Center. In 2005 and 2006, Martin, Dexter and their sister, Bernice Albertine King, became involved in a highly-publicized battle over whether or not to sell the poorly maintained institution to the National Park Service, but ultimately opted against the sale.[5] In 2006, King and his siblings sought to auction some of King's documents at Sotheby's for as much as $30 million, but a group of philanthropists and business leaders bought the documents for an undisclosed sum just prior to the auction; the buyers promised to keep the collection intact at Morehouse College, Martin Luther King Jr.'s alma mater in Atlanta, Georgia.[5]

In 2006, King founded an organization called Realizing the Dream, which has been absorbed into The King Center under King as President and CEO Dexter King had accused Martin of establishing the foundation to make money off their parents' legacy which should go to the King Center.[7] On March 29, 2008, King threw out the first pitch at the MLB Civil Rights Game.

Martin Luther King III spoke on behalf of the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama, at the Democratic National Convention on August 28, 2008. The event marked the 45th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech and the first time an African American accepted the presidential nomination of a major party.[8] King said his father would be "proud of Barack Obama, proud of the party that nominated him, and proud of the America that will elect him."[9] But he also warned that his father's dream would not be completely fulfilled even if Obama wins the presidency. King said the country was suffering from a poor health care system, education system, housing market and justice system and that "we all have to roll up our sleeves and do work to ensure that the dream that he shared can be fulfilled.”[8]

On January 19, 2009, the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday, King joined with President Obama in painting and refurbishing the Sasha Bruce Youthwork shelter for homeless teens in Northeast Washington to help encourage the nation-wide day of community service on the King holiday.[10]

Martin Luther King III gave a tribute at Michael Jackson's memorial service on July 7, 2009. Additionally, he spoke at Michael Jackson's Funeral at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, alongside his sister, Bernice King. He also spoke as a campus guest speaker at SUNY Canton on February 23, 2010, invited by the College Union Board.

On April 6, 2010, Martin Luther King III, along with his brother Dexter King and sister, Rev. Bernice King issued a joint statement announcing the re-election of Martin Luther King III as president and chief executive officer of The King Center. "It's the right time, and Martin is in the right place to take this great organization forward," Dexter King said in a statement. Bernice King said she is, "proud that my brothers and I are speaking with one voice to communicate our parents' legacy to the world." Martin King added, "We are definitely working together. My brother and sister and I are constantly in communication...It's a great time for us."[11]

Along with Al Sharpton and a number of other civil-rights leaders, on August 28, 2010, King took part in the 'Reclaim the Dream' commemorative march, marking the forty-seventh anniversary of the historic Great March on Washington. They spoke at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. followed by a reassemblage at the site of the future Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial location in the center of the National Mall. The event coincided with Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally planned for the same day on the eastern part of the Mall.[12] King wrote a Washington Post op-ed column offering measured criticism of Beck's event. "While it is commendable that [Glenn Beck's] rally will honor the brave men and women of our armed forces ... [its] organizers present this event as also honoring the ideals and contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. ... My father...would be the first to say that those participating in Beck's rally have the right to express their views. But his dream rejected hateful rhetoric and all forms of bigotry or discrimination, whether directed at race, faith, nationality, sexual orientation or political beliefs. ... Throughout his life he advocated compassion for the poor.... ...Profoundly religious..., my father did not claim to have an exclusionary "plan" that laid out God's word for only one group or ideology. ... I pray that all Americans will embrace the challenge of social justice and the unifying spirit that my father shared with his compatriots."[13]

On September 19, 2010 Mr. King received one of India's most prestigious honors, the Ramakrishna Bajaj Memorial Global Award for outstanding contributions to the promotion of human rights at the 26th Anniversary Global Awards of the Priyadarshni Academy in Mumbai, India[14].

In January, 2011 it was reported that King will attempt to become a "strategic partner" in the New York Mets baseball team. "This was blown up way out of proportion,” King told the Associated Press. “While I’m not leading a group and I’m not having direct conversations...I think it is very important to promote diversity in ownership."[15]

MLK April4 rally

On April 4, 2011, the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of his father, King helped to lead nation-wide demonstrations against initiatives to eliminate and undermine collective bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin and other states. King led a mass march in Atlanta and spoke to a crowd of supporters at the Georgia state capitol, urging them to "defend the collective bargaining rights of teachers, bus drivers, police, firefighters and other public service workers, who educate, protect and serve our children and families."


Tommie Miller, president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which once worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. in guiding the Montgomery bus boycott, asked the Los Angeles Times of King III, "What's he really done in life?"[2] Friends of King said he has always been expected to live up to the high standards set by his father; Rev. E. Randel T. Osburn said, "Every day people come up to him and say, ‘Oh, your father was this, and, oh, your father was that.’ If you’re around Martin much, you can tell he never gets used to it."[2] African-American columnist Larry Elder has defended King, commending him for resisting the styles of more extreme civil leaders like Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson.[16]

King, and other members of his family, have also been criticized by scholars and historians for limiting access to Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers and commercializing his legacy, including an instance in which the family accepted a payment to allow a digital image of King's I Have a Dream speech to appear in television[4] and print advertisements for electronics company Alcatel Americas,[5] including a commercial with the Muppet, Kermit the Frog. King and his siblings have also been criticized for suing news outlets for using his father's I Have a Dream speech without permission, such as their suit against CBS in 1999.[5] In 2003, Atlanta columnist Cynthia Tucker wrote that the King family, "converted King's legacy into a profit center -- I Have a Dream Inc."[5] Martin Luther King Jr. himself took legal action to protect his copyright of the speech.[17]

King has publicly stated his belief that James Earl Ray, the man who killed his father, did not act alone, but as part of a conspiracy involving the United States government. On the 40th anniversary of the assassination, King told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I think James Earl Ray was a total patsy. He was hired to move around the country to give the perception that he was following my dad. There was an elaborate plan with some levels of the government involved.... It's far bigger than what we've been told."[18] King and his family have been criticized for these positions.[4] However, Emily Yellin reported in The New York Times on December 9, 1999, "A jury in a civil suit brought by the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided today that a retired Memphis cafe owner was part of a conspiracy in the 1968 killing of Dr. King...The jury's decision means it did not believe that James Earl Ray, who was convicted of the crime, fired the shot that killed Dr. King...After four weeks of testimony and one hour of deliberation, the jury in the wrongful-death case found that Loyd Jowers as well as others, including governmental agencies had been part of a conspiracy. The jury awarded the King family the damages they had sought: $100, which the family donated to charity."[19]


Martin Luther King III's mother, Coretta Scott King died January 30, 2006. At her funeral on February 7, former President Bill Clinton described her children's responsibility to carry on their father's legacy as "a terrible burden"[5] and asked the audience to pray for them.[5] In May 2006, Martin Luther King III married longtime girlfriend Arndrea Waters.[20] On May 25, 2008 the couple had a daughter, Yolanda Renee King, the first grandchild of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King. She was named after her aunt, the late Yolanda King, who had died of a heart attack at age 51 in Santa Monica, California the previous year.[20]

Lawsuits involving Dexter King

In July 2008, Martin Luther King III and Bernice King filed a lawsuit against Dexter King, accusing him of improperly taking money from the estate of their late mother and transferring it to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., where Dexter King serves as president. According to the suit, Dexter failed to keep Martin and Bernice informed about the company's financial affairs. It alleged the company's assets were being "misapplied or wasted,"[5] and demanded that Dexter produce documents pertaining to the 2006 sale of some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s documents.[5] In response, Dexter King accused his siblings of continuously using their parents' legacy for their own benefit and "to further their own personal and religious agendas."[7] Although critics said the lawsuit was at odds with their father's message and legacy, King III maintained it was in keeping with his history of negotiation and nonviolent direct action, claiming, "My father also used the court system."[21]

Dexter filed a similar counter-suit against Martin and Bernice on August 18, 2008, claiming they breached their duties to the King Center and their father's estate, misused assets belonging to the center and kept money that should have gone back to the center and estate. Among the claims in the suit were that Martin improperly kept a $55,000 Lincoln Navigator SUV donated to the King Center for his own personal use, and that he "commandeered a reception"[7] being held at the King Center and "turned it into his own wedding reception."[7] Dexter claimed he made numerous attempts to get his siblings to stop such misuses of power but was unsuccessful. King III's lawyer, Jock Smith, denied the allegations as petty and misguided, and said the suit demonstrates Dexter King's misuse of power and his history of making poor decisions involving the Center without seeking proper input from his siblings.[7]

In October 2008 Martin Luther King III had not seen his brother since June, and Dexter had yet to meet his niece, Yolanda. Martin, Bernice and Dexter have each expressed love for each other and hope that they will reconcile once their legal matters have been resolved.[21] In October 2009 Martin and his siblings settled the lawsuit out of court.

Note and references

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gettleman, Jeffrey (August 5, 2001). "M.L. King III: Father's path hard to follow.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 14, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Coretta King Arrested at Embassy". June 27, 1985. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Firestone, David (July 26, 2001). "A civil rights group suspends, then reinstates, its president". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Fausset, Richard; Jarvie, Jenny (July 12, 2008). "Children of Martin Luther King Jr. embroiled in lawsuit". Los Angeles Times.,0,6129435.story. Retrieved August 28, 2008. 
  6. ^ Suggs, Ernie (August 6, 2001). "Many in SCLC Rally Behind King". The Atlanta Constitution.
  7. ^ a b c d e Keefe, Bob. "King family lawsuit called 'disheartening.'" The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 19, 2008. Retrieved on September 20, 2008.
  8. ^ a b Rodgers, Jacob. "DNC: Martin Luther King III speaks on historic anniversary." Fort Collins Weekly, August 28, 2008. Retrieved on August 28, 2008.
  9. ^ "Tonight we witness what has become of his dream..." New England Cable News, August 28, 2008. Retrieved on August 28, 2008.
  10. ^ Branigin, William; Rucker, Philip (January 20, 2009). "Obama Commemorates MLK Day with Service". The Washington Post. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Keefe, Bob; Schneider, Craig (August 27, 2010). "Conservatively speaking, thousands will crowd the National Mall". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
  13. ^ King III, Martin Luther (August 25, 2010). "Still striving for Milk's dream in the 21st century". Washington Post. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Associated Press (January 31, 2011). "Report: King’s son interested in buying into Mets". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved January 31, 2011. 
  16. ^ Elder, Larry. "Martin Luther King III --- get off his back." Jewish World Review, August 9, 2001. Retrieved on September 20, 2008.
  17. ^ Martin Luther King, Jr. vs Mister Maestro, Inc., and 20th Century-Fox Record Corporation USDC, S.D.N.Y. (12-13-1963) ¤ 224 F.Supp.101, 140 USPQ 366
  18. ^ Auchmutey, Jim (April 4, 2008). "40 years later questions about James Earl Ray linger". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved August 28, 2008. 
  19. ^ Yellin, Emily (December 8, 1999). "Memphis Jury Sees Conspiracy in Martin Luther King's Killing". The New York Times
  20. ^ a b Zimmerman, Karl; et al (May 26, 2008). "First MLK grandchild born". CNN. Retrieved May 26, 2008. 
  21. ^ a b Haines, Errin (October 19, 2008). "AP Exclusive: MLK siblings try to justify suit". Associated Press. 

See also

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