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INTA 2024: Bernice King speaks on her father’s legacy and IP

22 May 2024

INTA 2024: Bernice King speaks on her father’s legacy and IP

Bernice King, a lawyer, pastor and daughter of late civil rights advocate Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, took the stage at the International Trademark Association’s opening ceremony in Atlanta to discuss her father’s legacy, and the great efforts her mother, the late Coretta Scott King, took to preserve his intellectual property.

Bernice King, who today is CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center For Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) in Atlanta, sat down for an on-stage interview with Annual Meeting co-chair Auma N. Reggy, managing lead counsel for intellectual property at medical supplies manufacturer McKesson in Atlanta. The King Center was founded by Coretta Scott King as the official living memorial to the life, work, and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, who was five years old when her father was assassinated, said that her mother, who took on the work of continuing MLK’s legacy, who helped to transform the United States in terms of de jure discrimination. “That’s the one area where he was very successful,” she said. “We’re still dealing with de facto discrimination.”

King said her mother built The King Center to ensure that future generations would understand his most important contribution was nonviolence. “My father taught it not just a tactic to be used in social justice movements, but as a way of life,” King said.

“I heard you talk about your mother as the architect” of King’s legacy, Reggy said. “Speak a bit more about why you call her the architect.”

King said: “He was a great man, but if you don’t have anybody to carry your legacy after you’re gone, whatever you left behind is going to die. She was systematic in the way she built this legacy.”

In the end, King brought the interview around to intellectual property. In 1979 or 1980, King said, there was a company that started marketing a bust of MLK, Jr. Her mother filed a lawsuit to enjoin sales, because the company did not have a license to produce or sell the busts. Before his death, her father, she said, sued someone trying to sell his I Have a Dream speech on phonograph records.

“People don’t know my father actually went to court on I Have a Dream, so when they look at us now and wonder why we’re protecting it, he protected it, too,” she said. “That particular lawsuit is what established the right to publicity in the state of Georgia.”

- Gregory Glass, reporting from Atlanta

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