'Growing Up King,' By Dexter King

I was born six weeks premature in January of 1961. Only my mother can know what she went through, mother of two at the time, pregnant with a third, dependent on Daddy, worried about his safety, whether something would happen to him because they had whisked him off in the middle of the night to Reidsville. They could as well have been taking him to Hell. He could have easily not even made it to that prison — could have wound up bloated in an earthen dam. It was known to happen. It seems incredible, but those were the harsh realities of the times. So, my mother was in a nervous state for the entire time she was pregnant with me. Everything I've read or heard of since implies that the emotional state of the parents, particularly the mother, is transmitted to the fetus. I felt what she went through. My mother thinks it had a bearing in shaping me, may have forced me out sooner, the urgency of the times.

My paternal grandfather also made his mark on me. He made his mark on all of us, on the whole city of Atlanta, long after he, as Mike King, at age sixteen, had hopped a freight from Stockbridge, Georgia, Henry County, south by southeast of Atlanta, back in the day. Later he argued with his father in order to stay in Atlanta at Bryant Preparatory School, where he was learning how to read and write. Neither of his parents could read or write. When his father, James, went to Atlanta and demanded Mike come back to the farm, because they couldn't make it without his labor, Mike declined. He'd stay on at the school and go about ministering the Baptist way in nearby East Point. Mike King had been born in 1899, to Delia Lindsay and James Albert King, whose father was a white Irishman. He courted and married Alberta Williams, the daughter of the well-known and respected Rev. A. D. Williams; was determined and felt the call to be a Baptist preacher.

Martin seemed a more appropriate name for such a calling, so he adopted it; such given-name changing was a fairly common practice among this generation of young black men making or trying to make a transition from fields to halls of learning. In his twenties, Granddaddy went to Morehouse, graduated, eventually inheriting the wind at Ebenezer from his father-in-law. He remained country strong. Two words best describe him: no-nonsense. Eventually he was overshadowed by the legacy of his son.

Daddy was not just charismatic away from home. His personal magnetism had nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement on the level I'm talking about. I'd watch him when he wasn't looking, in different states of activity or repose. He insisted we have family time to discuss what was going on, and why he had to be away.

Him sitting at the dining room table with us was a good time for conversation. Sometimes his mind wandered and he seemed lost in thought, absently eating green onions. My father liked stalks of green onions with sweet, white, bulbous roots. They sat in a plate in water, like celery; before a meal he'd pick and eat them like fruit, especially before meals containing turnip or collard greens. He would say he was laying down a bed of straw before the cows and pigs — the rest of the meal — came home. This was ancestral. His father's family was from rural Georgia, my mother's family from rural Alabama. You can see a plate of green onions in photos of tarpaper shacks in the black belt of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia; they were staples of the sharecropper's diet.

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