1964 Freedom March

Dearing King shares memories from the Kentucky Civil Rights Movement

My name is Dearing E. King, Jr. and the son of the Rev. Dr. D.E. King whom I consider one the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. In fact, members of my family were not only activists for rights and justice, but were firsts in many areas of the evolving American way. We can start with my mother’s (Mae Evelyn King) brother, John Earl Rudder of Paducah, who completed the NROTC at Purdue University, joined the marine corps and became the first Negro officer in the Regular Marine Corps with a command of 1535 colored marines. My father’s cousin, Garrie Gossett, became the first African American teacher to integrate the Memphis, TN school system (East High School) in 1972. My first cousin, Beatrice Rudder became not only the first female firefighter, but also the first female fire chief of Washington, DC. My sister, Madearia King, participated in the election of Mayor Harold Washington’s win and was a campaign contributor to Jesse Jackson’s presidential run.

I attended the James Bond elementary school in which my mother’s cousin, Leo Diggs, was principal. The Supreme Court’s, Brown vs. The Board of Education, decision to reverse school segregation allowed me to transfer to the 5th grade of the formerly all white, Henry Clay Elementary School.
During those years, I and the youths of my time were shielded from a lot of the backlash experienced in cities of the deeper south. I was not exposed to outright discrimination until my father took me to Stuart’s Department Store, downtown to buy a new pair of shoes. They measured my feet, but would not allow me to test the shoes on my feet without buying them. My father became so enraged with that process, that the next thing I knew, he helped to start a steering committee to begin a boycott of Louisville stores. That committee included Zion Baptist church members Tennie Gaddie and Rev. Charles White. I refer to Zion Baptist Church to note it was the mega-church of its’ time, having the largest congregation of predominantly black members in Kentucky. Zion was also one of the first black churches to have a white co-pastor and family. That story became an article in Ebony Magazine. My father was renowned as a preacher’s preacher and was chosen as one of five ministers in the US to preach christianity in Russia.

I remember vividly during the formation of the boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King staying at our home. In fact, MLK’s father, mother and wife all stayed at our home. Although still not aware of the significance of the demonstration, I was there alongside, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and our neighbor, Frank Stanley, Jr., son of Frank Stanley, Sr., editor of the Louisville Defender newspaper. The police, aware of my father’s stature in the community, kept taking him out of the line and refused to arrest him. I, along with many other youths, were put in a paddy wagon although we never heard the words, “you’re under arrest.” I was taken to the station and upon asking for my name, I was literally thrown out of the jail office for risk of a riot by having Dr. King’s son held. I still had to go to court in which all charges were dismissed on a group of teens who filled the courtroom. When the judge announced “charges dismissed, ” the courtroom sounded like a concert.

Dr. King and my father were very close friends. We had a guesthouse adjacent to the main house, having its’ own efficiency of a frontroom, bedroom, bath and kitchen. When Dr. King wanted to get away, he stayed in our guesthouse. The two were so close that I received sympathy cards as to my uncle’s assassination. We are not related.

The fight didn’t stop there. After 18 years, my father took a pastorate at Friendship Baptist Church in New York City. Upon his leaving, he was instrumental in MLK’s brother, Rev. A.D. King taking over the vacancy.

The fight continued as I received a track scholarship to Western Kentucky University in which African American athletes were putting the school on the sports map. As the university was coming into prominence with black athletes, it was essential to not be represented and not have
a rallying cry with the display of the Confederate Rebel Flag. After protest, the school initiated the removal of the rebel flag from its’ sports events. We raised the consciousness of the educators and had history books containing erroneous historical information, naturally about black contributions in American history, removed with the purchase of new and correct ones. It was then, we installed the Black History Studies Program.

This story, of course, is far from over, but I wanted to forward it to you in the event that somehow my recollection and history gets lost. Thank you for your support.

Dearing King