Growing Up King: An Intimate Memoir

Growing Up King: An Intimate Memoir

by Dexter Scott King, Ralph Wiley


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Dexter King's courageous efforts, amid widespread skepticism, to investigate what really happened in his father's slaying resulted in a civil jury trial proving there was a conspiracy involving governmental agencies to murder his father.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446692373
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 01/01/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range: 13 Years

Read an Excerpt

Growing Up King

An Intimate Memoir
By Dexter Scott King with Ralph Wiley

Warner Books

Copyright © 2003 Dexter Scott King
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0446529427

Chapter One


I felt inadequate to the task at hand, the scene before me, though my role seemed simple enough. Yoki had already shown me a picture of Prince Charming in a book of fairy tales, so I knew what he was supposed to look like. I'd seen myself in a mirror. Didn't see the correlation, didn't think I could ever look like that or act like that. But my older sister kept on insisting I was the Chosen One, who must bend down and kiss my baby sister Bernice, lying on one end of our seesaw, acting dead, like Sleeping Beauty. Yoki was saying, "Let's do this." I was steadily refusing.

"Nope," I said. "Nope, nope, nope."

The corners of Yoki's mouth curled. "Yes-that's what you mean to say. Right?"

She was about to unleash a verbal volley accompanied by a twisting pinch of arm flesh if I wasn't quick enough, which, by the warm, so-called Indian summer of 1967, I usually was.

I was six and a half years old when I asked Yoki, "Why me?" while fixing a pleading eye toward my older brother, Martin III, who stood behind me in the backyard of 234 Sunset, Vine City, Atlanta, Georgia, behind the house where we grew up.

Marty wasn't about to buck Yoki's authority; he grew deaf, looked the other way,whistled.

I'm in my forty-first year now, but thinking of what it was like back in 1967, when I was a boy but six years old, makes me smile. A wry and cautious smile. Yoki was eleven. An eleven-year-old girl isn't to be trifled with by her younger brothers. "You ask too many questions," she said, her calm that comes before a storm; we knew this, and she knew that we knew. Yoki was my terrible older sister Yolanda. Now I know she isn't so terrible. Now I feel I must call her Yolanda. It has more formality-something expected of Yolanda, Martin, me, and Bernice. Ever since I was seven, I've felt I must be formal. But I didn't feel it in '67. Then she was my crazy terrible sister; Yoki-poky, as Daddy called her when we were children and didn't have the responsibilities or memories we have now. Formality, seriousness, certitude-all these are difficult poses to maintain, even if you're a person with perfect equilibrium, with all the drama life throws at you.

Speaking of what life throws at you, just then a green walnut came whizzing over the fence, crashing into our swing, cracking open its unripe cover, its powerful astringent scent filling the air. Could just as well have been a peach, apple, fig, or pecan-each of those species bloomed in the backyards of the small houses in Vine City. Walnuts made more of an announcement when arriving via this kind of air mail. Marty and I looked at each other. We were being paged.


One of the neighborhood boys was summoning us without risking an audience with Yoki. Smart move. We'd relocated to Vine City from the Old Fourth Ward in 1965. I spent my first four years in the Old Fourth Ward, up from Auburn Avenue, on Johnson Avenue, in a house the color of the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz. A liquor store now stands where the backyard of the house used to be. What's now Freedom Parkway was once our front yard.

Granddaddy's house in Old Fourth Ward, where the package store now stands, was on a hill, three blocks away from Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was pastor, two blocks down from 501 Auburn Avenue. Granddaddy's name was Martin Luther King, Sr. He had two sons. The younger was Alfred Daniel King, Sr., Uncle A.D., named for my great-grandfather A. D. Williams, who'd also been pastor at Ebenezer, and who was the father of Alberta Williams King, my paternal grandmother, whom we called Big Mama. My father was the elder son, Martin Luther King, Sr.'s copastor at Ebenezer, among other things.

His name was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When my mother became pregnant with me, the family was moving to Atlanta from Montgomery, Alabama, where my father had been pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He'd become famous or infamous there, depending on one's slant, as one of the architects of the Montgomery bus boycott. That action was spawned by Mrs. Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat on a city transit bus, a watershed event of the Civil Rights Movement. We moved to Atlanta after that.

The move helped my grandfather. His eight-hundred-seat church and his clout in Baptist circles were enhanced having my father rejoin him as co-pastor. But as far as joining him in the more affluent western suburb of Collier Heights, my father wasn't hearing it, in spite of my grandfather's insistence. We'd live in Vine City, with the plain folk.

A freeway was coming, as was Bunny. We moved because we needed more space and the freeway construction would displace us. The freeway became known as Freedom Parkway, which now takes you by the Carter Presidential Center. Back when the freeway was being planned, it was to be called Stone Mountain Freeway, taking you to Stone Mountain, where images of Confederate generals were blasted into the granite. But both the name and the route were changed. We needed a place, so we moved to the modest, roomy brick house on an undulating street, Sunset, at the foot of the Atlanta University Center, the consortium of five historically black colleges and universities.

It was a split-level house with a full basement; you entered the main floor by walking up exterior stairs aided by wrought-iron banisters painted white. The house is larger than it appears from in front. From that position you can't get the depth of it. Your idea of a thing is often based on the angle from which you view it. The house isn't narrow, yet it's much deeper than it is wide.

As you enter, on your right side facing in is the dining room; on your left is the living room, filled with memorabilia, family pictures, a sofa. The kitchen is beyond the dining room. There my mother or the ladies who helped her, Mrs. Dorothy Lockhart or Mrs. Newman or sometimes Mrs. Rachel Ward, caused a racket of pots and pans. Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Patricia Cook Latimore sometimes looked after us when Mom and Dad had to do important business. The family room is beyond the kitchen. The four of us made a hubbub of children and toys in there. The hallway splits the house in half, running perpendicular from the front door straight from front to back, connecting four bedrooms and a study, my parents' bedroom at the end of the hallway to the left, the study to the right. The first room to the left was the boys' room, the second to the left was the girls' room, and in later years, vice versa; to the right was the guest room. Connecting our rooms was a play room; a door was between us. It was the doorway to fun, conflict, happiness. We bolted and flitted around these dimensions at incredible speeds, as children do. From here we plotted childhood.

There was sibling rivalry among us. We jockeyed for the attention of our mother and father, the way sisters and brothers sometimes do. There was a little jealousy on the part of the others whenever the next one was born.

Bernice, whom we called Bunny, was the baby, four going on fifty-two in '67, precocious, but quietly so. She never experienced jealousy pangs, but she had her own cross to bear. It wasn't so much that she was tomboyish-that was fine by Marty and me. We'd throw her in there if we needed to round out a side, or boost her up into trees, and she'd try her best to keep up. Occasionally she might bark a shin, earn a bruise some other way. Marty was the world's foremost tattletale, the one who'd say, "I'm gon' tell Mama," if a boy happened not to be quick enough to break his baby sister's fall. After spankings delivered by Mother, or, worse, Granddaddy's leather belt or ham hands, we still had a backyard in which to retire and ruminate.

Martin seemed to always know the trouble would blow over. He and Yolanda were such amiable children. Bernice was more pragmatic, or so it seemed at the time. She'd look at me and in her quiet baby talk take up for Martin. So even when we had falling outs, soon we all were as thick as thieves again, welcoming the neighborhood children into our domain.

Our home at 234 Sunset was kind of home central, the neighborhood headquarters. All the kids came by to play. My mom treated them like hers, which wasn't always reassuring for them. Coretta Scott King was a disciplinarian, took no guff from hers or any others. Froze you with a look. "Time out" was a call we made in football, not what fell from her lips in our direction. Under her eye or not, we'd play "hide-and-go-seek," as we called it, football, softball, kickball, tag, marbles in the red clay; we'd spin tops, ride homemade skateboards, "pull" friends along by pedaling bikes standing up as the friend rode on the passenger seat. We had a swing set, seesaw, and slide. I loved the slide. I loved playing on the gym set. I loved it all, really. We had a hoop too. Ours was, in these regards, a typical family home-or so I thought back then.

This area in northwest Atlanta known as Vine City got its name from the heavy kudzu vines that grew all over the place; Vine City was a "Negro" enclave, in the era of segregation into which we were born. The Magnolia Ballroom was on the corner. James Brown and popular "Negro" entertainers would come to perform there. Often we'd pretend to be James or the Famous Flames, his backup singers, doing choreography, hitting spins and splits, feigning fainting spells with an old bedspread thrown over our shoulders.

That apartment building over there? Former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson's family had lived there. Next door were Reverend and Mrs. Hall and their children. Across the street from our house were the Davis children. We played with them all the time. Miss Toomer lived over there. Next to her were the Martins. Julian Bond's family lived next to the Martins. We grew up with his kids, Phyllis, Michael, Cookie, Jeffrey, and Horace Mann Bond III, otherwise known as Manny, who got his name from his grandfather. A block over was the new John F. Kennedy Middle School, where we played, and where I later went to summer school.

The whole area was known as lower Vine City-cheek by jowl with the AU Center of Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morris Brown College (it stood closest; we could almost read the football-field scoreboard from our driveway), Clark College, and Atlanta University. Vine City became the "'hood" later, after Daddy was killed and integration patterns became widespread and "Negroes," black people, could move, if not to where our hearts desired, then to where our purses allowed. Many did move, leaving memories, the luckless, the Aftermath ... leaving only a few committed to their memories, or bound by lowering prospects in Vine City. The pendulum swings both ways, though, if you can last, if you can hold on, hang in-if you can remember.

My brother, my sisters, and I would walk down to Sunset and Simpson to a parlor we called Flavor Palace. Flavor Palace had the best ice cream anywhere-outside of the deep country, a place with which we were familiar, where ice cream was rarer but homemade, hand-cranked, tastiest with a little vanilla extract and lemon juice added. At Flavor Palace it was almost as good as homemade. They also made Polish sausage sandwiches with onions and jalapeño peppers. I salivate now just thinking about them. We stopped there often. The proprietor, Mr. Patterson, a brown-skinned man with the thin, sculpted mustache favored in those days, often gave us a free taste. I never made a correlation between his generosity and my father's being in jail, but there may have been one. Jalapeños and onions on top of a Polish. He fixed one up and handed it to me. I fished for my meager coins and he said, "No, no, you do good for your fahdah, now ..."

Egan Homes was around the corner. If you heard somebody lived in the Egan Homes, you felt he was trouble. "Don't mess with them niggas what live over there in them Egan Homes," was often said or implied by the very same Negroes who lived in Egan Homes! They were talking about themselves, to be agreeable; those were accepted words in the better homes in our gardens.

But I knew people who lived in Egan Homes. After people said don't mess with them, I asked why. I knew you had to go by there to get to Washington Park unless you took the long way. You had to learn to suppress your fear. If you did, you found that while some Egan Homes people might be trouble, some might not be. Some might help you out.

Egan Homes is long gone now. Razed, and replaced by a new mixed-income development, part of urban renewal.

My father would take us down to the Ollie Street YMCA all the time. Everything in Atlanta is renamed by people who live near it. "Booker T." was Booker T. Washington High School, where Dad went. It's right over there. Everything in Atlanta was "right over there." We stayed in our communities. The Ollie Street Y was where my father took us for recreation. I learned to swim there. He taught me. He was good at it and enjoyed it. And the YMCA is still there today.

At Washington Park, we had cookouts. As children, we didn't know we were "Negroes," or if we did, we didn't know exactly what that meant. We didn't realize we lived in "segregation," didn't know there were better pools than the one we crowded into at the Y, or that we and our friends would be considered "have-nots" if our father wasn't the co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. We weren't aware that we could and would be turned away from public accommodations, educational institutions, or turned away from desirable living spaces by the real estate restrictive covenants. We weren't aware that we were shunned by society, murdered over mere glances, made to feel less than human. We were children, and children are more than human; we were blessed, but sooner or later we'd grow up and have to face this prison of segregation, unless Daddy won his struggle. There was this great social upheaval, this "great getting-up morning" going on that would redefine our lives and existences, and those of the people around us.

Like I said. We were rehearsing Yoki's play as the alley and our friends beckoned to us. In a nearby house, Lou Rawls's "St. James Infirmary" wafted up from a "record player." Yoki also had a "record player," on which spun large-mouthed 45s filled by yellow prong adapters; "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Temptations, Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." My father preferred Mahalia Jackson singing "Amazing Grace," or Aretha Franklin singing "O Mary Don't You Weep." He often tapped his foot and bobbed his head to secular music, and he didn't deny it to us-he couldn't, not in Vine City. Music was everywhere. Like Yoki.

Yoki was five years older than me and forever putting on plays and musicals. We were her troupe. It was not often that anyone else got a starring role with Yoki around.


Excerpted from Growing Up King by Dexter Scott King with Ralph Wiley Copyright © 2003 by Dexter Scott King
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1Sleeping Beauties5
Chapter 2Peace Be Still29
Chapter 3Shattered47
Chapter 4Aftermath61
Chapter 5A Question of Faith73
Chapter 6Soul Survivor89
Chapter 7Schooled101
Chapter 8This Little Light of Mine115
Chapter 9Wrecked129
Chapter 10Answers from Within145
Chapter 11Legacy153
Chapter 12Betrayed163
Chapter 13Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy175
Chapter 14A Moving Image179
Chapter 15Odd Man In197
Chapter 16The Meeting213
Chapter 17Sampling a Relationship237
Chapter 18Home Front253
Chapter 19A Way Out of No Way261
Chapter 20The Reckoning273
Chapter 21Free at Last291

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Growing Up King: An Intimate Memoir 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
BellaFoxx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Dexter Scott King was watching television one day, there was a breaking news bulletin. The bulletin was that his father had been shot in Memphis.This book is about his life as one of the children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the aftereffects of the murder of his father, of his mothers efforts to continue his fathers `legacy¿. He writes of the Civil Rights movement and progress made. The criticism heaped on him and his siblings for `not being King¿ and their inability to move forward.Unfortunately he meanders, he talks about a subject through to the end, then the next chapter goes to another subject that started before this one, then in another chapter he goes back to a previous subject, and everything is very detached and rambling, you make no emotional connection to anything he says, because he is detached emotionally.Overall this is a very detailed and informative account of what happened to MLK and to the family, but it is not very easy to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was written in a very personal manner. Great insite into a side of Martin Luther King not normally seen -- it sounds as though he was a great father in spite of all the other influences he had in his life. Sounds like this was a well-grounded family despite everything they went through.
BBBB More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book because it presents a view of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr from a sibling's point of view. I loved this book because it was based on real life situations that most siblings are faced with today. There were moments in the book when I cried and there were instances when I laughed. The authors achieved their purpose for writing this book letting individuals learn the difficulty of growing up being a civil rights leader¿s son. I would recommend this book for reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thank God !.....Dexter is tell .....his.....story.......
Guest More than 1 year ago
PREFACE: THIS BOOK GOES TO SHOW THAT MY GOD CAN DO ANYTHING!!! I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Dexter Scott King share his unique story with the world. Hearing his story has been therapeutic and has re-emphasized that there is healing in positive expression of the past struggles and/or tragedies. I now have the desire to be more transparent and discuss my struggles because they are common to man and the blessing is not only for me but for others who have or have had similar struggles. I am convinced that Mr. King encouraged himself with this story and that it will be even more therapeutic for him. It is truly amazing how he captured the many historial facts surrounding his father Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. It is my belief that this book would be a great asset for History lessons taught in U.S. schools on Civil Rights. This book speaks volumes to one's intellect or ignorance and causes one to have a paradigm shift and begin to apply Dr. King's teaching of social nonviolence. I learned about passion, being sold out to your mission in life while still maintaining a balanced life, not allowing your past to determine your future, copyright laws, the film industry, love, social and racial equality, and how we must not be afraid to tell the truth despite of the myths that have been spread abroad. DEXTER SCOTT KING IS COMING OUT OF THE BOX THAT SOCIETY HAS PLACED HIM AND THE KING FAMILY IN AND IS READY TO STEP INTO THE NEXT SEASON OF HIS LIFE!!! WATCH OUT LADIES, HERE HE COMES!!!