Meet the Candidate

The Rev. Clennon King is unique. Period.

King made national headlines in October 1976 when he attempted to integrate the all-white Baptist church of soon-to-be President Jimmy Carter. In a news article, Carter A then the governor of Georgia A had been quoted as saying he "presumed" his Plains, Georgia, church would accept black applicants, although the congregation had voted in the 1960s to exclude blacks and "activists." King, who at the time was pastor of a small church 35 miles away in Albany, took up the challenge. According to an account in the New York Times, Carter joined other members of the congregation in rejecting the application because, they claimed, King failed to appear before the church's membership committee. (King's opponents also suggested that his application was politically motivated, claiming that President Gerald Ford's allies had paid him to try to embarrass Carter days before the presidential election. King denies the charges.)

King had already acquired notoriety in southwest Georgia. Earlier that year, in his simultaneous run for Albany City Commission, Dougherty County Commission, and the state legislature, he advertised a $100 offer to anyone who promised to vote for him. When King was found guilty of election violations, a judge offered him twelve months' probation, but the feisty preacher would have none of it. When his appeal failed in 1978, King fled to Florida, where, two years later, he made plans to run for Congress against Rep. William Lehman. But once again political good fortune eluded him: King paid the $3000 qualifying fee with a rubber check and his name was removed from the ballot.

The minister has spent most of the past fourteen years inside the apartment building he owns at 277 NW Ninth Street, in the heart of Overtown. The word "HEAVEN" is emblazoned on blue awnings hanging from the third floor. A small-scale plaster replica of Michelangelo's David stands in the front yard. Until earlier this month, plastic Christmas wreaths still adorned the front doors of each of the twelve units.

This is where King runs the All Faiths Church of Divine Mission, which doubles as both a religious college A the Arenia Mallory School of Religion, named after King's fourth wife A and a homeless shelter. One room has been converted into the "Jehovah 24-hour-a-day Chapel" and contains several chairs, a Bible on a podium, and King's high-backed wooden "throne." Another has become the "Christian Chapel," complete with a small electric organ and a ring of wooden chairs donated by a local Holiday Inn. The "Islamic Chapel" A designed for "prayer, meditation, and recreation," King says A is outfitted with a pool table, several lounge chairs, and a 25-inch color television set.

The college's brochure, a single sheet of paper folded over to make a four-sided leaflet, describes it as a "school for real, get down people." King elaborates:

"I cater to the bums, hoboes, the rude element." They currently number about a dozen, who, by and large, wandered in off the street. In exchange for food and shelter, King explains, the "matriculants" engage in an informal course of study. Class schedules are tailored to each student, King says, but there are no exams. By following a curriculum of 44 "seminars" with titles like "The Perfect Jesus Knowledge of God" and "Your Tongue's Most Ancient Civilized Roots," a student can graduate with a doctorate of divinity.

"The brochure was the most skimpy one I've ever seen," admits Charles Davis, a program specialist for the state Board of Independent Colleges and Universities, which has certified King's school since 1987. "When I saw it, I kind of squinted." Davis says that in past years, King has been able to satisfy the basic requirements of certification, which legally authorizes him to issue a doctorate of divinity. But, Davis adds, "This year I'm going to require he be more detailed in the courses he offers."

In Dade's community of homeless advocates, King is a somewhat mysterious presence. While the church is a member of the Daily Bread Food Bank, which distributes food to more than 700 nonprofit, charitable organizations in South Florida, few homeless advocates know anything about King. "In the black and Hispanic communities, several small churches have set up their own little shticks," says Mark Buchbinder, president of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, who says he has never heard of King. "He may be one of them." (King says the church is supported by private donations and by income the residents make through extracurricular work.)

While in Miami, King has only occasionally raged into the public eye. In 1985 the minister made news when his apartment complex was cited for a remarkable 792 housing code violations, including a leaky roof, sagging ceilings, exposed wiring, and faulty plumbing. And that came only after housing inspectors were able to get inside the place; housing authorities twice needed warrants and police escorts to inspect the building. "He's been very belligerent," the Miami Herald quoted Dade's chief code enforcement officer as saying at the time. "He's just one of those far-out kind of individuals. He likes to do things his own way." On one occasion, recalls an inspector who requested anonymity, a housing official was welcomed into the minister's apartment only to find King sitting naked on the bed. "He made no attempt to cover himself up," the inspector recalls with amusement.

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