I never knew a man with so many brothers and sisters as my father — and resulting aunts and uncles for me and my brother and sisters. Not only was there Uncle A.D. and Aunt Naomi, or Aunt Christine and Uncle Isaac, our own blood relatives and his inlaws, there was also Uncle Andy, Uncle Ralph, Uncle Harry, Uncle Bob, Uncle Junius. Uncle Ralph was Ralph Abernathy. Uncle Andy was Andrew Young. Uncle Harry was Harry Belafonte. Uncle Junius was Junius Griffen. Uncle Bob was either Robert Green or Robert Johnson. Everybody was related, even if not by blood. And if anybody got in trouble, my family showed up to support him or her, because that was our habit.
Some would question, Why are you there, why would you get involved with, say, a Ralph Abernathy, Jr., after his brush with the law as an elected official? Why would you show up at his trial? Well, we were like family. We don't leave our people behind. Ralph III and I grew up together. We lived in each other's homes. We were roommates in college. We'd go to outings, cookouts, retreats. Our parents took us to work-related events. Even though we were kids just running around, a lot did rub off on us, just through osmosis, being in the environment, the SCLC conventions where Aretha Franklin sang. We had no idea of the momentous nature of Daddy's work. He and his colleagues were about ending the system of segregation in American life, no small or simple matter.
When the Hyatt opened, the brand-new Hyatt, with the blue dome, I was riding in the futuristic glass-walled elevator feeling like I was on a spaceship above Atlanta. Architect John Portman was a pioneer in developing new-age spaceship elevators, and duplicated them in buildings he designed elsewhere. Child that I was, I felt like this had been put in place just for my father, to whisk him up on high. I knew he was famous. Going to those ceremonies and conventions and remembering the entertainment there always had the sense of electricity, music in the air — this always stood out to me. I always remember best the entertainment and the music.
I had no conception of segregation, of how unprecedented such mixed gatherings were, the meaning of a Nobel Peace Prize, which my father had received in 1964, the same year the system of formal segregation was abolished by law if not by practice in Atlanta. Daddy's point had won. He'd persevered. His cause was just and its righteousness prevailed, at least in Atlanta. I was almost four years old and just knew that all of a sudden we were at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel one winter's night. The way I remember it, there were thousands of people there — fifteen hundred, as it turns out: black, white, in between, all to honor my father. The new mayor, Ivan Allen; Dr. Mays; other dignitaries, businesspeople, but no entertainment. No Aretha Franklin. Not my kind of room.
We were introduced to the crowd as the children of the winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. Yoki got up and waved, though I didn't understand why; she hadn't put on a play. Marty got up and bowed from the waist. The way Mother remembers it, when my name was called, when it was my turn to face the crowd, I slid under the chair instead of standing up on it. The crowd laughed. Slid under the chair? Is that what I did? No wonder everyone laughed.