'Growing Up King,' By Dexter King

Yolanda Denise. My mother had liked that name. Martin was named for my father and my grandfather. Bernice Albertine — Bernice for my mother's mother, Albertine for my father's mother, Alberta. Martin and Yolanda were born in Montgomery. People came up to me all the time and said, "Yes, Dexter, I remember when you were a baby in Montgomery; you were named after the church there." I would never correct them and say, "Yes, I was named for the church, but I was born here in Atlanta. I'm a homeboy." I would let them get it out and then say, "Well, I think you're talking about my brother." Martin III and I were always kind of seen as a unit, interchangeable. Even today. People come up and swear it was me who came and spoke at their school or church, when it was my brother. People say things like, "You should've been named Martin — you look just like your father." I learned not to bristle when I heard this. I learned to say, "My brother and I agree that the Lord often works in mysterious ways."

We were all close as children. Yoki was five years my senior, seven years Bernice's. I don't remember her being as much a part of our circle as Bernice, Martin, me — especially Afterward …

Martin and I would tussle. He thought he was my father. Mom generally took us to restaurants, shopping, church, on outings. We drew attention, but that didn't stop our parents from giving us a semblance of normalcy. It was only a semblance, though. We couldn't do things together as frequently as normal families, because both parents weren't as available. At times we'd go with friends of the family; we might go with the Abernathy kids, Ralph III, Juandalyn, and Donzaleigh; or with Uncle A.D's and Aunt Naomi's children, Alveda, Al, Derek, Darlene, and Vernon; or with my father's sister, Christine King Farris, and her children, Angela and Isaac. Martin III was three years older than me. Isaac and I were a year apart. Isaac lived in Collier Heights, where professionals, particularly teachers and preachers, lived. My grandparents lived in a spacious house with a yard so big Mr. Horton had to use a Snapper riding mower to cut the grass. Aunt Christine, Uncle Isaac, Angela, and Isaac lived near our grandparents in Collier Heights. Granddaddy still wanted my father to move. Daddy said we were okay in Vine City.

My cousin Isaac and me, our relationship started out rocky. Fought like cats and dogs. Out of it came an ironclad friendship. Wasn't love at first sight, though. Maybe the problem was me attempting to be Isaac's parent, according to Isaac — trying to be to Isaac what Martin tried to be to me. Most in our family are headstrong. Wonder where we get it from. I think it mostly comes from my grandfather, Martin Luther King, Sr., who cast a long shadow. He was a strong-willed, bullheaded man, and he passed it down; the only one who was able to escape it and establish his own identity was his youngest son and namesake, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Excerpted from Growing Up King: An Intimate Memoir copyright 2003 by Dextor Scott King, Warner Books.

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