'Growing Up King,' By Dexter King

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a leader who represented hope and possibility to millions, but to his youngest son, Dexter, King was simply "Daddy."

Dexter was only 7 years old when King was assassinated and he's spent the rest of his life coming to terms with the past and protecting his father's legacy. Read chapter one of his book, Growing Up King: An Intimate Memoir.

Chapter 1: Sleeping Beauties

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.


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