Meet the Candidate

The Rev. Clennon King is unique. Period.

One county commission candidate has taken Dade's new era of political change very seriously. He's not going to lobby any bigtime politicians and power brokers in his bid for District 3. He's not going to sit on any panels or engage in any televised debates. He's not even going to distribute bumper stickers advertising his name or campaign posters displaying his beaming face.

Instead he is going to get some people together and walk the streets of the district A which covers most of Overtown, a section of Liberty City, Brownsville, and a portion of Little River A handing out small slips of paper bearing a single photocopied exhortation: "YOU'VE BEEN FUCKED BY ALL THE SMART-ASSES. SO, NOW, ON TUES., MARCH 16, 1993, VOTE FOR A CRAZY NIGGER."

The Rev. Clennon King, a large man with a face full of deep wrinkles and a wild puff of white hair, chuckles at the possibility that the leaflet may not be instilling much confidence among potential voters. But that doesn't bother the 73-year-old minister, who has lived in Overtown since 1979. "No, I'm not concerned with votes. That would set me up to be disappointed," he remarks in a sonorous voice. Slight tonal affectations hint at a very distant English accent. "I am running for the running. I have the urge to do it. It's a whim."

King's candidacy A his first for any public office in Dade County A may represent the ultimate articulation of new political liberation in Miami's black and Hispanic communities. On the other hand, it may simply be another impulsive outburst from a highly unpredictable and unusual character.

Expressing an opinion that has framed King's life, one Overtown activist whispers, "I don't think he's playing with a full deck." It's the same thing King was told in 1958 when he tried to enroll in the University of Mississippi, several years before James Meredith was admitted amid race riots. Doctors declared him insane and threw him in an asylum because, they reasoned, only a crazy black man would try to integrate an all-white school. (The incident has been widely chronicled in civil rights literature, including Taylor Branch's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Parting the Waters, which describes King as an "educated, eccentric" professor.)

That incident was only a highlight in a long and extraordinary life. "The story of Clennon King is a never-ending saga," says Bill Davis, long-time editor of the Albany Journal, a 43-year-old weekly newspaper in King's hometown of Albany, Georgia. "If you were to write a book about him, the opening paragraph would begin: 'How does a member of one of the South's most prestigious black families end up in the hole at San Quentin penitentiary?"

King's father was a postman in Albany, patriarch of the town's most influential and affluent black family. He had seven sons, all highly educated, many of whom studied abroad. "We were big niggers and we're still big niggers there," says the normally eloquent minister. "There are hardly bigger niggers than the Kings in Albany." Wearing flip-flops, black sweat pants, and an old sweater, King is seated in a ratty deck chair on the balcony of an aging three-story building he owns in Overtown. As he recounts the story of his life, he ignores several wasps buzzing around his hair, a bush of curlicues and frizzy shocks shooting every which way.

By the time of his institutionalization at the age of 38, King says he already held a B.A. from Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University), a master's degree in history from Case Western Reserve University, and had studied at several other schools, including Ohio State University and the University of Chicago, where he earned credits toward a doctorate in Egyptology. He had also been through nearly a dozen teaching stints at various Southern colleges and universities, including the University of Georgia, University of Virginia, and Florida Memorial College in North Dade. Some time during all this schooling, King says, he adopted an English accent, the vestiges of which still occasionally rise up in his speech.

Following his release from the Mississippi mental institution in 1958, King says he sought political asylum in Mexico and Cuba in protest of racial discrimination in the United States. The fruitless action led to the breakup of his third marriage and a custody battle over their six children. In 1960, after a botched effort to kidnap his children from their mother's California home, and after failure to pay alimony, King was arrested and jailed. But he says he jumped bail and escaped to Hawaii and spent the next six years as a fugitive in Canada, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Europe, Mexico, Libya, and Ethiopia. After voluntarily surrendering himself to authorities, he claims, he spent four years in San Quentin and several other California prisons until that state's supreme court released him.

During the 1970s, King established a mission for the homeless in Albany, Georgia, and became a perennial political candidate. He ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia in 1970, for the state legislature in 1974 and 1976, and for the commissions of the City of Albany and Dougherty County in 1976. (He had already run for president, in 1960, as a representative of the Independent Afro-American Party. According to Federal Election Commission records, King finished that race eleventh out of twelve candidates, garnering 1485 votes. John F. Kennedy won the election with 34,226,731 votes.)

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