People spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday doing all sorts of different things. Some attend lectures, read or watch movies about Dr. King or the civil rights movement. Some take a moment during a Florida sunset to remember what he achieved -- what we have achieved and have yet to achieve. And, a very small number of people spend a moment wondering why Dr. King had not written an estate plan before he died.
Dr. King's children argued over how to manage his assets until they formed a corporation to handle his estate. The children proceeded to argue about how to manage the corporation. When the air cleared, though, the corporation had a solid grip on Dr. King's estate and his legacy.
Part of managing a great person's legacy is determining what is important. You look for the best way to tell the story, but only after you've decided which story to tell. Sometimes the little things don't matter, and sometimes they are all that matters. This is a task that takes thought and preparation and time and patience -- and, at times, a squabble or two.
Dr. King was a powerful speaker, certainly, but he was also a powerful writer. And his writings have been the subject of more than one lawsuit filed by the estate.
During the 1950s, Dr. King had a personal secretary. She and her husband were friends with the Kings, and they went back a ways. As his assistant, she did more than type and sort mail. She helped with research; she edited his speeches; she wrote letters on his behalf. During their time together, she says now, Dr. King gave her some of those documents.
The way she explains it, Dr. King didn't hand them over all at once. Every so often, he would give her a document -- a letter from Rosa Parks, for example -- with a simple, "This is for you." Never once did he ask for them back. She considered them a gift.
The estate does not agree. We'll explain more in our next post.
Source: Forbes, "MLK Heirs Challenge Gifts To His 86-Year-Old Former Secretary," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Dec. 12, 2011