In 2012, at age 69, King decided to embrace his racial identity.
During an interview for the documentary "Let It Fall," King, now 74, discussed his personal journey as a bi-racial individual and why it was important to him to go public with his story. The following are excerpts in his own words.
"Let It Fall: LA 1982-1992," an ABC News documentary television event, airs April 28 at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. central), marking the 25th anniversary of the L.A. uprising.
I was born in San Diego, California… We left there when I was two and we moved back to where my mother was from in Tulare, California. And that's where I was raised… My mom and dad married. And then, it wasn't long afterwards that he had to go into the service. And he was shipped off to France. And he was in a segregated Army outfit, you know, that's just blacks… and I didn't realize that until, you know, probably, maybe 15 years ago…. It really, it just sort of bothered me.
The country was so different, you know, than it is now. You know, now people accept people for what they are. If they're black or white-- you know, yellow, red, whatever, they accept for what you are. Back then I guess, it wasn't the same. You know, it was hard for me when I was growing up to, you know, to understand that… I loved my grandparents on both sides.
My mother is Caucasian. She's from Arkansas. Their family's white. My dad - I didn't know this until I was older is, I guess he was, not all black. But he, I guess he was maybe two-thirds, because I did a DNA test on myself to see, you know, how much black I really was. And, it came up 29-percent. So I figured, well, my dad has to be 'bout at least 60-percent black.
I don't know how my mother looked at my dad, whether she thought he was black or not. Maybe it didn't matter to her. But, she never said anything about it… race never came into our conversation. With all my black family race never was ever, never mentioned… we never talked about it. It didn't mean anything to us… I had black relatives that were light. I had black relatives that were so dark you couldn't hardly see 'em. And it didn't matter to me. I loved 'em all. I loved my, you know, I loved all my family. And I was treated just the same on both sides of my family."
I guess when I got to high school and -- 'cause I lived in the same town all my life from two years old to, you know, through high school and then starting college. And, so people knew me. Knew my background. And, you know, I thought, 'I don't want any more of that people thinkin' about me of bein’ black or any way.' So I took my stepfather's name in high school. So I didn't even take, you know, so I didn't take my own name.
I just sorta wanted to be normal…in high school I didn't, you know, I didn't have any black friends. All I, you know, all the people in my neighborhood were white. And my friends were white. So I guess there I chose to be white. And I, you know, I guess I wasn't proud of bein' black then..."
I don't think there was a black person in the whole neighborhood. To see any black people I had to go to my grandparents' house. It was clear on the other side of town. And that's the only time I ever, you know, would really be in contact with a black person. And--but it didn't matter to me.
It's definitely easier being white than being black. I would think if you, you know, if you had to live your whole life one way or the other. And I guess that's why I, I chose to be white because it was easier. But then you have to, you have to live with yourself. You have to say, 'Well, I'm not just white. I'm, I'm part black. And I'm proud of it now.' So, you know, I did change.
WHY GO PUBLIC
On the Rodney King beating trial…I didn't tell anybody. I just was, you know, Mr. White Guy. And nobody knew. Nobody knows now unless they see this [documentary].
I wanted the people to know that it wasn't an ‘all-white jury’. We had a Filipino, we had a Hispanic, and [we] had me. And my father was black. And my mother's white.
I guess it was a time in my life that I said, 'I'm proud of my family, both sides.' And I wanted people to know that I had a black family. And they're very, very intelligent people. One of my cousins was the head of the FCC. And I have other cousins that have prominent places in society. I was proud of them, of their accomplishments. And the cousin that was the head of the FCC, he's now an ambassador.
I think there's a lot of people that are, of mixed race. And, I think by me coming out and, you know, talkin' about my background, my family, maybe it'll just touch somebody else. To know they're not alone.
THE JURY & THE VERDICT
I didn't pick the jury. I just sat on the jury. I just want to do the best job that I could do and be the fairest person that I could be. And no matter, you know, what my background is, who my dad was, who my mother was-- I just wanted to be fair to the defendants and the prosecution.
[The beating tape] didn't look good. It looked bad. But it was, as far as I was concerned, it wasn't against the law. And then I couldn't convict 'em because to me they were doing what they were supposed to do. And, well, the majority of us felt the same way at the trial.
After the trial we got home and, you know, [the jurors] were-- getting death threats and everything. So my wife and I, we packed up our car and we left town for-- to our cabin which is 200 miles away. And we set up there. And watched all the riots goin' on…
WATCHING THE RIOTS
A lot of people were, their lives were ended or damaged or destroyed. And it was just a terrible thing… I definitely was watching TV and saw everything-- and I think I saw where they pulled the man out of the pickup or truck he was driving.
I couldn't regret my decision. I mean… I was gonna make that decision no matter what. And, and I can't, I couldn't relive it. I couldn't say, go back and say, 'Not guilty.' Just to save all those people. I think, you know, my decision was a decision of law. Of law and order. And, the people that rioted, and that looted, and broke the law, their decision was breaking the law. And they have to, you know, they have to live with their conscience of what they did. And I have to live with my conscience of what happened afterwards, of the [riots], you know, for the rest of my life.
I mean, it hurt me. It hurt me inside. I said, ‘I guess I'm partially to blame for what's happening.’ But I couldn't have done anything different… I have to live with this the rest of my life. That all these people died, because of a verdict that I was part of. But I, you know, I couldn't change it. I mean, it happened.
The burning, looting, those images…will live with you for the rest of your life. I mean, you just can't forget about them, you know? I guess it's man's inhumanity to man. Seein' people beat other people up, that they don't know, or they don't have a reason to personally… You beat them up just because you're mad at a verdict? I can't understand that. It's just beyond my understanding of why people do things like that. I just don't know.
WHY SPEAK NOW
I just wanted people to know, you know, that we weren't just white racists that wanted to find all those police officers innocent. Because if they, I felt, they broke the law, I would've found them guilty in, in a second. So I just wanted, I really wanted people to know that the people that are on that, the jurors that were on that trial were human beings and, and we were just doin' the best that we could.
As I grew older I kept wanting-- I just wanted us all-- as Rodney King said, ‘Let's all get along.’ And that's what I wanted-- everybody to just not have this prejudice and-- and get along with no matter what race you are, what background you are. That's why I wanted to, I wanted to do this interview. I wanted to let people know that we're all human beings and we're all trying to do the right thing.