[The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 10.24.2001]

MLK heirs want a cut of D.C. memorial

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Fund-raising for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial has hit a snag -- the King family.

DOn Wednesday, the King Center issued this public statement.

The family is demanding a licensing fee to use King's name and likeness in a marketing campaign designed to get sponsors to contribute money toward construction of the monument, which would be alongside memorials to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln on the National Mall.

The organization formed to raise the $100 million needed for the King memorial say this makes their job more difficult.

"The holdup seems to be they want us to do a licensing agreement with them," said Harry Johnson, president of the Washington-based Martin Luther King Memorial Project. "We are trying to come to terms with what that agreement would be. I am not saying that is wrong, we just have to figure out what it is."

While the King family has recently been criticized for profiting from King's name and image, potential sponsors for the project could be doing just that themselves. According to Johnson, the marketing plan for the memorial could involve sponsors' using King's image in the same way corporations use the Olympic rings. Johnson said several corporations, such as Tommy Hilfiger and General Motors, have been identified as potential and eager sponsors.

Efforts Tuesday to reach members of the King family and the executive director of The King Center, Tricia Harris, for comment were unsuccessful.

"Within the next year and a half, we wanted to have all the money in hand," said Johnson. "This is going to slow things down, in terms of large money donations. But we are going to continue with our plans. We can't sit and wait."

Corporations are going to be hesitant to sign on to the project if they are not sure how the money would be disbursed, Johnson said. He said the family hasn't given the foundation a fee to work with, so he is unsure if they want a percentage of all sponsorships, or a set amount.

"How much is a question best answered by the King family," said Johnson. "I am willing to do what I need to do ... because it is too important to the American people."

Money issues and how King's survivors are compensated for the use of his likeness and writings have dogged the family for years. Recently, King's image was used in commercials for Atlanta-based Cingular, a cellular telephone company, and Alcatel, a French company. In the Alcatel spot, a digital image of King, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivers his historic speech to an empty mall.

Some have called the spots -- particularly the Cingular ad, which King shares with, among others, Kermit the Frog and Homer Simpson -- offensive.

While profiting from King's image and likeness, the family also has sued some organizations for using King's words without permission.

In 1999, a potential sale of King's papers to the Library of Congress was derailed when the family insisted on retaining copyright control, and therefore future royalties from their use. This was in addition to selling the papers to the library for $20 million, which in itself would have been unprecedented. The library has put the purchase on hold.

Johnson said the foundation is trying to raise $100 million over the next 18 months to fund the memorial, which will be built on 4 acres on the shore of the Tidal Basin, halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It was to be finished by November 2003.

King, a native of Atlanta who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of the U.S. civil rights movement, will be the first African-American honored with his own memorial at the National Mall.

In September 2000, the design of a San Francisco-based architectural firm was picked out of a pool of 900 candidates. The design features walls inscribed with King's words and a towering stone structure at the entrance. Into the stone will be sculpted King's profile and his "promissory note" passage, in which he declares America owes black Americans freedom and fairness. King's profile will face the memorial to Thomas Jefferson.