In the hoopla surrounding Sunday’s dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the National Mall in Washington, Harry E. Johnson Sr., the visionary and fundraising engine behind the project, will finally get his due. Placing Dr. King on the Mall was a project of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, but it was Johnson – a St. Louis native, Houston attorney and former president of the fraternity – who made it all happen, raising more than $100 million.
In the excitement of placing a statue of the first African American on the Mall, there are three stories that readers should be aware of, though few journalists, if any, will cover.
The first story is surprising. Among the million-dollar donors to the MLK memorial project, only two African Americans had joined that select club as of July, according to the list of donors compiled by the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. The website list of all donors of a million dollars or more has been removed from the site. But records examined in July showed that Sheila Johnson-Newman, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), and Victor B. MacFarlane, a San Francisco real estate developer, were the only blacks who had made personal or corporate contributions of $1 million or more.
Many Black stars hosted fundraisers or provided other support, but only MacFarlane and Johnson-Newman put up the super bucks. Missing in action were the big-name athletes and entertainers. I don’t have to list them – you know who they are.
It is also interesting to look at corporate donations. The General Motors Foundation, under the leadership of Rod Gillum, was in a class by itself, giving $10 million. It was followed by Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation with a $5 million contribution. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the National Basketball Association each donated $3 million. The Walt Disney Company donated $2.7 million. Contributing $2 million each were the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Ford Motor Fund, MetLife Foundation, Toyota Foundation and the Verizon Foundation.
The federal government provided approximately $10 million and Alpha Phi Alpha, the driving force behind the King memorial, donated $3.4 million.
An additional 39 companies or individuals gave at least $1 million, including Delta Airlines, General Electric, Star Wars creator George Lucas, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
The second story unlikely to be covered this week is the lack of donations from certain Fortune 100 companies. More than a dozen companies contributed less than $100,000 or nothing at all to the King memorial. They include: Citigroup, Philip Morris, Home Depot, J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, AOL Time Warner, Goldman Sachs Group, United Parcel Service (UPS), Allstate, Sprint and American Express, according to records available as of July.
Many of those companies actively court black consumers. Some even quote Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech from time to time. Yet, when it is time to honor the dreamer, they are asleep at the switch.
The third story you won’t be reading about this weekend is in equal parts sad and familiar. It is yet another example of the King children’s greediness. Harry Johnson, head of the Mall project, should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for being able to deal with the family dysfunction.
According to documents examined by the Associated Press, the mall foundation has paid Intellectual Properties Management, a company owned by the King children, approximately $800,000 for the use of Dr. King’s words and image.
Records show that the foundation paid the King entity $761,160 in 2007 to use Dr. King’s image and words in fundraising materials. It also charged the memorial a management fee of $71,000 in 2003.
The firm representing the Kings issued a statement saying the fees would go to the Martin Luther King Jr. King Center for Social Change in Atlanta. It said the fees will help offset donations that would go toward erecting the memorial instead of the King center, where both parents are buried.
The King family has had its own version of the television show Family Feud for years. Dexter, the youngest brother, was named head of the King center but was released within months by his mother, Coretta Scott King. In 2008, Martin III and Bernice sued Dexter, claiming he had misused MLK center assets and failed to properly involve them in family business matters.
Dexter counter-sued, charging that his two siblings had misused King Center funds and kept money that should have gone to the center. Under pressure from the judge, the Kings settled out of court. But they have never been able to shed the image of profiting from the name of their father.
David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Dr. King, said the civil rights leader would have been “absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children.”
He told the AP, “I don’t think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family…I don’t think any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington. One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com.