“I try . . . to focus on the blessing of having been in this kind of a family,” Martin Luther King III said Wednesday in an interview at the Willard Hotel in Washington. “This is the only life I’ve ever known.”
The weight of having an iconic father has had its impact, Martin and his younger sister, Bernice, said in separate interviews. From the day their father died, when Bernice was 5 and Martin was 10, people have been looking for him in his children. Would those who carry his DNA carry on his cause? Is the question even fair?
Martin argued Wednesday that it is not. “If I woke up every day attempting to be my father, I would fail miserably,” he said. “I think he was anointed. He was chosen by God, and there are few men or women in our world that will be chosen by God to make the kind of impact that he made.”
The three surviving King children, who have had strained relationships with one another, each took up a part of their father’s persona. Bernice, the youngest, became a minister. Martin, the eldest, has been a social activist. Dexter, who looks most like his father and served as family spokesman after his mother’s death, has receded from public life.
“It’s obviously a very big burden,” said Clayborne Carson, a King scholar and historian at Stanford University, who was chosen by the family to edit King’s papers. “If you pick the best [out] of all of them and put them all together, it comprises pieces of what Martin Luther King did, but of course he was one person.”
The way King’s children have managed their inheritance — which is nothing less than the legacy and estate of one of the nation’s greatest civil rights leaders — has long brought criticism. After the deaths of their mother, Coretta Scott King, in 2006 and their eldest sister, Yolanda, in 2007, a family feud played out among the three surviving siblings in a court battle that put the family’s disagreements and finances on public display.
Bernice, 48, and Martin, 53, filed suit against Dexter, 50, alleging that the family’s money — $32 million for an archive of their father’s papers that was sold to the City of Atlanta — had been improperly managed. Dexter in turn sued Bernice, asking that she release a collection of intimate letters that her parents wrote each other.
In 2009, a judge appointed Terry M. Giles, a businessman and lawyer, as outside custodian over King Inc., which was set up by the family in 1995 to control its intellectual property. Giles, who lives in Houston, said that working with all three has been an “absolute joy” and that the Kings are now “all in alignment on what the company has been doing and how it is progressing.”
The financial issues have been smoothed over, but Martin said that the personal losses the siblings have faced continue to be difficult. “We’re doing okay. I wouldn’t say great,” Martin said. “While we are excited about what we are getting ready to do, it would have been great if Mom were still living and Yolanda were here. ”