Dexter Scott King, |
with Ralph Wiley,
Growing Up King:
An Intimate Memoir
(Time Warner, 2003)
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still resonates throughout our culture, despite his tragic death more than 30 years ago. A man of such passion and wisdom, it seems his message of tolerance and non-violence is as relevant today, and in every age, as it was when he was alive to speak it.
While we are familiar with his poetic sermons, and probably could recognize the cadence of his voice nearly as well as that of our own families, how much can we say we know of him as a man? A father and a husband, he was deeply committed to family.
Dexter King has created both a loving tribute to the daddy he knew and a moving account of his own life without the father he adored.
What was it like to be a King? It seems to be very much like being anyone else, at least when Dr. King was still alive. Dexter describes games in the yard with his bossy older sister Yolanda, escapades with cousins at family gatherings, even hiding his father's cigarettes (a bad habit in which his father indulged during times of stress) -- in other words, a normal family life.
All this changed of course, when his father was murdered and the real world, outside the comforting privacy of his family, came rushing in. Only 7 years old at the time, Dexter had to face not just life without a father, but also with the questions left behind. Who killed his father? And why?
Worse, it seemed that violent death plagued the King family. Just one year later, Dexter's uncle, the Rev. Alfred Daniel (A.D.) King, was found drowned in his own pool, the circumstances of which the family found unlikely. Many family members believe he was murdered, though no culprit was ever determined. Then came the shooting of his grandmother, Dr. King's mother Alberta, in 1974 in the very church where the family worshipped. For a young child, these were very unsettling and frightening times.
But the strength of the King family pulled him through, and Dexter grew into a strong young man, following his own dreams.
No one is without personal trials, and the candor with which Dexter describes his own is both admirable, and fascinating. Despite his extraordinary beginnings, he is quite a normal person, very like anyone you might know. To hear his hopes for himself, and his family, seems a familiar conversation, almost engaging you to join in.
Though Dexter's voice lacks the preacher quality of his father's, it is not without its own power. He speaks his story with a silky near-monotone, evidence of the music DJ profession he has chosen.
I think to hear this story, rather than to read it, lends to its epic quality. It feels as though we are being let in on the behind-the-scenes details of one very public life, and that of another life left behind.