Andrew Young at odds with ML King’s sons

By Deepti Hajela | 12/6/2013, 10:34 a.m.
Long sharing the common goal of protecting the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, the bond between the family ...
FRIENDLIER TIMES: Former Ambassador Andrew Young (left) and Martin Luther King III share a conversation at Atlanta City Hall in this file photo. The relationship between King’s sons and their father’s former lieutenant during the civil rights movement, could become strained after they sued the man they affectionately call “Uncle Andy.” Ironically, Young has performed the role as mediator a number of times when the King children were involved in legal disputes with one another. Photo by Moses.

NEW YORK (AP) - Long sharing the common goal of protecting the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, the bond between the family of the slain civil rights leader and one of his former top aides, Andrew Young, has become threatened.

At issue is a lawsuit initiated by King’s sons. The points of legal contention are who has the rights to King’s words and image, and how far do those rights extend. Young is facing the sons’ ire over footage of King that shows up in a series produced by Young’s foundation. Another of King’s contemporaries also has legal issues with his children - actor Harry Belafonte, in a separate case, is debating ownership of some King documents.

"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,’’ Young said recently in an interview with The Associated Press.

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

The estate’s suit asks 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.

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

Young, a King confidante who helped coordinate civil rights efforts throughout the south, disagrees about his use of footage in which 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.’’

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.

But the legal actions from King’s civil rights heyday are a far cry from what’s unfolding through King’s children now, said Jelani Cobb, history professor and director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.

"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.’’