Recasting Dexter King’s legacy by uplifting the family’s contributions to Atlanta – SaportaReport – SaportaReport

Recasting Dexter King’s legacy by uplifting the family’s contributions to Atlanta – SaportaReport – SaportaReport

Reconciliation. It’s a word we have heard repeatedly since the death of Dexter King on Jan. 22.

We have learned that Dexter King and Bernice King were able to reconcile their differences during the past 10 months. At the candlelight celebration in honor of Dexter King on Feb. 10, we learned that Martin Luther King III and Bernice King will work together to carry on the legacy of their mother and father – Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King III.

Now is the time for a true reconciliation between Atlanta and the King family.

Let us roll back the clock to June 2006. That’s when we learned Sotheby’s had set a date in 30 days to auction off a collection of 10,000 items of Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings – many with handwritten notes – as well as several of his personal items.

Immediately when the news came out, several key leaders believed it was time for Atlanta to act.

Bernice King hugs her “Uncle Andy” – former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young – after his talk with Atlanta Rotary on Feb. 12 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young reached out to then Mayor Shirley Franklin. “I told Shirley that we really needed to keep those papers in Atlanta,” Young said. 

In recalling that time, Young said he had heard New York (at the urging of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki) was working on a $50 million bid to acquire the papers. There also were a host of rumors of other potential buyers for all or parts of the collection.

Franklin also had conversations with several others – John Ahmann, then executive director of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, as well as A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress.

“I called a handful of people including Raymond King (of SunTrust) and Ingrid Saunders Jones (of the Coca-Cola Co.),” said Franklin, to gauge the level of interest in the community.

She then had dinner with Phillip Madison Jones, who was working closely with Dexter King, CEO of King Inc., which controlled the King estate.

“We talked about the papers,” Franklin said. “He told me they had had an appraisal for $30 million.”

Shirley Franklin and Doug Shipman on the eve of the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in June 2014 (Special)

They settled on a price of $32 million, the King family would have Sotheby’s call off the auction. But that deal would have to be done at least a week before the King papers were to be auctioned off.

In short, Franklin had just 11 days to raise $32 million in pledges that would back a loan that SunTrust would provide.

“It was incredible,” Ahmann said. “The intensity of Shirley’s leadership to pull together all the various factions in the city and work through a complicated financial and legal issues in a compressed period of 11 days was an amazing act of leadership.”

It would not be an easy feat.

“There was skepticism in the city that the deal could be done in the time frame we had,” Ahmann said. “But I had learned that you don’t bet against Shirley Franklin.”

The headwinds were intense. Not only were there complex legal and financial issues to work through, some people in town didn’t feel the King children should benefit financially from their father’s work.

“What I came to appreciate during the journey was that King copyrighted all his work,” Ahmann said. “People asked: ‘Why didn’t the family just give it away.’ But not many people tell their children to give away their estate. Remember, when King passed away, he didn’t have a lot of net worth.”

Shirley Franklin, chair of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, talks to construction workers building the new museum for Atlanta in September 2013 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Actually, Ahmann said Atlanta needed to garner $35 million in pledges to cover interest on the loan. The daunting challenge was on.

“Once Andy said we really need for the papers to be Atlanta, for those 11 days, I literally didn’t do anything else other than make calls,” Franklin said. “Dexter was crucial in this because he was the lead of the estate. I’m humbled that I had the opportunity to do it. It was good for the city. The city pulled it off. It was good for Atlanta. The family may have made more money selling it off piece by piece, but they wanted the papers in Atlanta.”

Doug Shipman, founding CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (and now president of the Atlanta City Council), said acquiring the King collection was instrumental in getting the Center built and providing a place to display the papers.

For about 10 years, Shipman worked with King and his representatives to make sure King’s legacy would be protected.

Doug Shipman, Ingrid Saunders Jones, Shirley Franklin and Tom Glenn at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“Dexter had the vision to understand that the papers were King’s intellectual history, and Dexter had the vision of how that intellectual history belonged in Atlanta,” Shipman said. “Shirley and Dexter, when they consummated that deal, had a vision of Atlanta embracing King’s legacy for generations to come. Almost 20 years later we can see that vision has been embraced.”

Shipman said we now have the perspective of time. 

“As with all things, when somebody passes, we evaluate the things they have done. For instance, Dexter’s vision around the King papers becomes much clearer,” he said. “From my perspective, Dexter deserved a lot of credit for his vision around the King papers deal. I’m extremely grateful that Shirley and Dexter were able to see that vision before most of the rest of us did.”

At the heartwarming candlelight celebration of Dexter King’s life on Feb. 10 at Ebenezer, Martin III and Bernice spoke openly about the friction that had existed between the siblings and with the community at large.

“We are like every other family in a lot of ways. Some days we get along. Some days we don’t. That’s called family,” said Martin III, who acknowledged that sometimes it felt like being left out in the cold. “I’m saying to my sister, Bernice that we will continue to work – together – to get it right.”

imageBernice King introduces Andrew Young and Google’s Reggie McKnight at Atlanta Rotary on Feb. 12 (Photo by Maria Saporta)
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Bernice King introduces Andrew Young and Google’s Reggie McKnight at Atlanta Rotary on Feb. 12 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Bernice then spoke. 

“We had some conflict, but not the kind that would separate us in terms of our deep love for one another,” she said. “Yes, in the beloved community, there’s conflict, but it’s how you work out the conflict that matters…. For the last 10 months, Dexter and I have had a wonderful opportunity, to reconcile our differences, to forgive one another, to say how much how much we love each other, to say how much we respect each other.

“Yet, he was very misunderstood. Many people in this audience misunderstood him. We criticized him. We didn’t understand that this was a man who early on developed the knack for seeing far distances.”

As an example, she mentioned Dexter’s vision in the 1990s to create the “Dream Center” – a cutting-edge museum using the latest in technology and innovation – to keep King’s messages alive and relevant.

“But the people did not understand it, and viciously criticized him,” Bernice said. “He was before his time.”

Upon reflection, it’s important to remember the King children could have made a lot more money if the King papers had been auctioned off. But they wanted the papers to stay in Atlanta. 

imageCandlelight celebration of Dexter King’s life on Feb. 10 at Ebenezer Baptist Church (Photo by Judith Service Montier)
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Candlelight celebration of Dexter King’s life on Feb. 10 at Ebenezer Baptist Church (Photo by Judith Service Montier)

“I had nothing but professional warm relationships with Dexter and the family,” Franklin said. “Dexter demonstrated patience and wisdom in the acquisition process. He understood his role in promoting the legacy, explaining the legacy and preserving the legacy. Atlanta’s acquisition of the King papers is an example of that vision.”

Fortunately, Atlanta is still the home of the King legacy.

“I’m grateful that Bernice and Martin III have continued to play a role in the life of Atlanta – not only for their father’s legacy but in contemporary issues of social justice,” Shipman said.

And the good news for Atlanta is that Leah Weber King, Dexter’s widow, is making this city her fulltime home.

“I am so full from the outpouring of love for Dex, and support for me,” Leah wrote me in a text message. “The love and support he is receiving since the news of his passing is overwhelming and heartwarming. It makes me so happy that people are contemplating, and changing, their perspective on Dexter’s work and contributions to his parents’ legacy.”

As we welcome the reconciliation among the King siblings, let us now embrace a reconciliation between Atlanta and the King family. 

imageMartin III, Bernice and Dexter King at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (Photo by Maria Saporta)
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Martin III, Bernice and Dexter King at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (Photo by Maria Saporta)
imageLeah and Dexter King on Jan. 16, 2016 during a Salute to Greatness dinner (Photo by Maria Saporta)
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Leah and Dexter King on Jan. 16, 2016 during a Salute to Greatness dinner (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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