Rev. Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., speaks about plans for the upcoming King Day federal holiday at the King Center in Atlanta on Jan. 10, 2014. / Erik S. Lesser, epa
ATLANTA - The Kings are at it again.
That has become the all-too-familiar refrain for what was once black America's most admired family, hasn't it?
Now, the Kings are demanding a say in a nascent movement by the state of Georgia to place a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on its Capitol grounds.
Let that sink in for a moment while you ponder the backdrop.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in January at King's former church, Ebenezer Baptist, that he would lead an effort to honor the state's most distinguished native son with a monument in the shadow of the Gold Dome.
The congregation nearly fell off the pews.
Deal, a white Republican, has a remarkably close political relationship with Atlanta's African-American, Democratic mayor, Kasim Reed. But Deal has not distinguished himself in the area of race relations. Just 7% of Deal's appointees, for example, are African Americans, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year. The state's population is 31.2% black.
Yet here was Deal at the annual King holiday service, promising to deliver an honor long overdue in my native state.
Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives voted 173-3 to approve a King statue that would be paid for with private donations. It wasn't long until the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. was taking Deal to task for not consulting the King estate about the plans to honor this Georgian who gave his life for his country.
Deal's aide who got the e-mail replied - in what reads like a picking-up-his-chin-off-the-floor tone - that Deal is not trying to "financially capitalize" off King, but "trying to honor a great Georgian," according to the e-mail published in The Journal-Constitution.
The estate is the corporate entity created by King's widow, the late Coretta Scott King, and his four children. I'm guessing it will get a seat at the table.
The estate's lawyers don't play games.
Consider: They just body-checked the youngest King sibling, the Rev. Bernice King - and she is a trustee of the estate. News of the estate's e-mail to Deal came within hours of her announcement that she would comply with a court order to hand over to a neutral party for safekeeping her father's Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize medal pending a court ruling on the items' ownership.
She's locked in a legal fight with her surviving siblings, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King, over the items.
Bernice wants to distance herself from her brothers; she says their plan to sell those spiritual icons crosses a moral line. She says she wants to keep the items for display at the King Center - which her mother founded in the basement of their Atlanta home shortly after King's assassination in 1968, and which she now heads, and which seems to be the most logical place for them.
Scores of Atlanta ministers, and many ordinary Atlantans, are taking her side in the dust-up. Some of her supporters argue that, because King accepted his 1964 Nobel prize on behalf of the civil rights movement - and donated the $54,123 prize to the movement - that medal belongs not to his family but to the movement itself.
Her legal footing seems uncertain. She and King's other heirs signed a document in 1995 that appears to assign control and ownership of such items to the estate.
Still, I had half-hoped she would defy the court order and go to jail, at least briefly. The law might not be on her side, but it wasn't on her father's, either, the 30 times he was sent to jail.
Copeland reports from USA TODAY's Atlanta bureau.
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