James Brown's Estate Is Being Hijacked in the American South

Author and Journalist
Over a year ago

To truly know the American South, you must come from the American South, says journalist and author James McBride. There is a particular code of values in the south, however blinded by history, that "in one way makes it great, and in one way makes it tragic." Indeed nobody can understand the south, and the people of the south, quite like black individuals who have spent their lives there. One such person of epic proportions was the godfather of American soul music, James Brown.

As writers and journalists do, McBride set out to better understand himself and his circumstances through Brown, his subject. What he found is as tragic as the legacy of American slavery itself. Despite leaving detailed legal instruction that a large portion of his estate be given to charity — he wished to establish an education fund for undeserved children of all racial backgrounds — Brown's legacy and his funds remain tied up in South Carolina courts.

McBride reports that more than 90 lawyers are now involved in the case, managing 48 lawsuits and 4,000 pages of testimony, meanwhile drawing funds from Brown estate — the same fund earmarked for charity — to pay their fees. It is a travesty of justice, says McBride. One that is unimaginable if the estates of Elvis Presley or John Lennon had been so meticulously set aside for doing good work. The legacy of the south lives on.

McBride's book isKill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul.