Black Leadership in Los Angeles: Celes King III

Interviewd by Bruce M. Tyler and Robin D. G. Kelley

Department of Special Collections
University of California, Los Angeles
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Celes King III


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Restrictions on this Interview

None.

Literary Rights and Quotation

This manuscript is hereby made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publication, are reserved to the University Library of the University of California, Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the University Librarian of the University of California, Los Angeles.

This interview was supported in part by a grant from the UCLA Institute of American Cultures in conjunction with the UCLA Center for Afro-American Studies.

Photograph courtesy of Celes King III. Photographer: Eric Meyer.


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Biographical Summary

Personal History:

Born: September 18, 1923, in Chicago.

Education: public schools in Chicago; Manual Arts High School, Los Angeles; LL.B, Pacific Coast University; M.B.A., Pepperdine University; Master's in Urban and Community Planning, Pepperdine University; doctoral candidate, Laurence University.

Spouse: Anita Givens, four children.

Career History:

Owner-administrator, King Bail Bond Agency, 1951-present.

Administrator, School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University, 1973-77.

Assistant professor, Department of Pan-African Studies, California State University, Los Angeles, 1978-79.

Public Service:

Bail Reform Evaluation Committee, Office of Criminal Justice Planning, 1980-84.

Black Agenda, Inc., board of directors, 1981-present.

Black Education Commission, founding board of directors, 1967.

Brotherhood Crusade, cofounder, 1968.

California Black Republican Council, 1975-83; public affairs director 1983-present.

California Republican Party, state central committee, 1972-present.

California State Senate Advisory Commission on Bond and Surety Matters, commissioner, 1983-present.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), California state chair, 1978-present.


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Kedren Community Health Center, Los Angeles, board of directors, 1975-85.

Laurence University (now University of Santa Barbara), chairman, board of trustees, 1976-88.

Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, president, 1968-73.

Los Angeles Rumor Control and Information, cofounder, 1968-73.

Los Angeles Urban League, 1951-present.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1951-present; vice president, 1964-66; president, 1966-69.

National Business League, 1985-present.

Professional Organizations:

Independent Bail Agents Association of California, president, 1979-85.

Independent Insurance Agent and Brokers Association of Los Angeles, 1978-present.

Los Angeles County Bail Agency Association, chair, 1978.

Professional Bondsmen of the United States, West Coast president, 1983-84; executive vice president, 1984-85; national president, 1985-88.

Military Service:

Second lieutenant, United States Air Force, 1943-44.

Brigadier general, California Military Reserve, 1982-present.


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Interview History

Interviewers:

Bruce M. Tyler, Interviewer, UCLA Oral History Program. B.A., History, M.A., History, California State University, Long Beach; Ph.D., History, UCLA. Visiting Lecturer, California State University, Northridge.

Robin D.G. Kelley, Interviewer, UCLA Oral History Program. B.A., History, California State University, Long Beach; M.A., History of Africa, UCLA. Member of the editorial board of Ufahamu.

Time and Setting of Interview:

Place: King's office in Los Angeles, California.

Dates: January 9, February 27, March 5, April 13, 27, May 25, June 1, 27, July 6, 14, 23, August 7, 11, 1985; March 27, April 3, 1987.

Time of day, length of sessions, and total number of hours recorded: King's schedule did not allow interviews to be set at a standard hour; sessions were held at various times throughout the day. Most sessions lasted about an hour and a half, but a few were only forty-five minutes long. A total of twenty hours of conversation was recorded.

Persons present during interview: Tapes I-XIV, King and Tyler. On Tape VII, King's friend C. A. "Bob" Barber sat in. Tapes XV-XVII, King and Kelley.

Conduct of Interview:

Tyler, after completing interview sessions in August, 1985, left Los Angeles to assume a position as assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville. Kelley, following Tyler's topic outline, completed the interview in 1987.

The interview proceeds chronologically, starting with King's family background and childhood experiences and moving on through his military service and his involvement in politics, business, and the Los Angeles black community. Frequently, however, the chronology is interrupted by sustained discussion of a given topic. Among the major topics discussed are the Dunbar Hotel,


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the bail bond business, the administration of Los Angeles Mayor Samuel W. Yorty, the aftermath of the Watts riots, and the civil rights movement.

This interview is one of a series undertaken since 1983 with selected Los Angeles black leaders.

Editing:

David P. Gist, assistant editor, edited the interview. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.

In June 1986, the edited transcript was sent to King for review. He verified proper names but made no changes in the text and returned the manuscript in February 1987. King's wife, Anita Givens King, and Attorney Irving Andrews both assisted in the verification of unanswered queries.

Teresa Barnett, editor, and Richard Martinez, editorial assistant, prepared the table of contents and biographical summary. Teresa Barnett, editor, prepared the index.

Supporting Documents:

The original tape recordings of the interview are in the university archives and are available under the regulations governing the use of permanent noncurrent records of the university. Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Oral History Program.

Table of Contents

  • TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (January 9, 1985)
  • Family background of King's father, Celestus A. King, Jr.--Family background of King's mother, Leontyne Butler King--Leon E. Brown, mother's stepfather.


  • TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (February 27, 1985)
  • King's great-grandfather, George Nelson--Nelson's family leaves Brenham, Texas, after a lynching--King is born in Chicago--Incident in which he swam into whites-only bathing zone--Elementary school education--Interest in flying.


  • TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (March 5, 1985)
  • King's early church involvement--Family's economic situation and father's refusal to accept relief--Father's various jobs--King's admiration for his older friend, Junior Murray--Black neighborhoods in Chicago--More on family's economic situation and father's employment--Uncle James Nelson buys the Dunbar Hotel in Los Angeles.


  • TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (April 13, 1985)
  • King's association with his cousin Jackie Davis--Attends Tilden Technical High School--Parents' emphasis on getting an education--Elections in Chicago--Parents' political beliefs and their ethic of self-reliance--Mother's work at Jacob's Dress Shop--Effects of the Depression in Chicago--Family moves to Los Angeles and buys an apartment house--King attends Manual Arts High School--Reasons for moving to Los Angeles--Story of how King's uncle bought the Dunbar Hotel.


  • TAPE NUMBER: III, Side Two (April 13, 1985)
  • Centrality of the Dunbar Hotel--The Houstons and the Nickersons--Entertainers who stayed at the Dunbar--King meets important people at the Dunbar--Lena Horne demands to see him when she comes to Tuskegee Institute--Learns to fly from Jimmie Lunceford--Becomes a pilot in the air force by not revealing his previous flying experience--Knows people all over the country--Scarcity of black pilots--Unemployment during the Depression--Move to Los Angeles advances the King family's social status.


  • TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (April 27, 1985)
  • King's first impressions of Los Angeles--Involvement with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Chicago and Los Angeles--Building model airplanes--Learns about business through his family's example--Attendance at Manual Arts High School.


  • TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (April 27, 1985)
  • Manual Arts High School continued.


  • TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (May 25, 1985)
  • King finds Los Angeles a pleasant place to live--Activities at the YMCA--Prominent blacks who grew up in Los Angeles--King's high school activities--First car brings mobility--Early trips to Val Verde--Buys a home in Val Verde--Val Verde as a black vacation community--King aspires to a balanced, well-rounded life--Travels to see sports events.


  • TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (May 25, 1985)
  • King travels around the country--Publicizes his business by sending press releases to newspapers nationwide--Posts bonds for civil rights activists.


  • TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side One (June 1, 1985)
  • Lessons King learned at Johnson's Pool Hall--Guests his own age he met at the Dunbar Hotel--His practical approach to education--Feeling that it's possible to be an officer and not lose contact with enlisted men--Hazing--Why King enlisted--Tuskegee Institute program weeds out 50 percent of entering pilots--King elected adjutant of class--Demoted for being in town on a nonblack day but works his way up again--Black response to segregation in the military.


  • TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side Two (June 1, 1985)
  • Judge William Hastie fights for end to segregation--Is replaced by Truman Gibson--Small proportion of black pilots in the military and in commercial flying--Only the best pilots make it through Tuskegee's program--King becomes a bomber pilot--Becomes an especially good pilot through hard work--Ruling barring black officers from officers' mess forces King to realize the need for change--Military refuses to allow black pilots overseas--King gets commercial pilot's license--Pilots return to civilian life--Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission v. Continental Air Lines forces airlines to hire black pilots--King becomes a member of California State Military Reserve--Returns to Los Angeles and takes over his mother's jukebox business.


  • TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (June 27, 1985)
  • King goes into the jukebox business--Attends night school--Early black bail agents in Los Angeles--Works part-time for bail agent Dave Finley--Graduates with an LL.B. from Pacific Coast University--Various law degrees available--Why unaccredited law schools are not necessarily inferior schools--King decides to go into the bail bond business--Policy of maintaining clients' confidentiality--Remodels one of his father's buildings for his first office--Business in the Dunbar Hotel.


  • TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two (June 27, 1985)
  • Black celebrities at the Dunba'r Hotel--The Dunbar as a focal point for the black community--White clientele in the Dunbar area--Impact of integration on the Dunbar--Price of accommodations--Black baseball players.


  • TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side One (July 6, 1985)
  • Decline of the Dunbar Hotel--General decline of businesses in the Central Avenue district--King's family takes over management of the hotel after Uncle Jimmy Nelson's death--Dunbar loses business as number of railroad passengers declines--White employers in the black community--Police Chief William H. Parker and the black community--Heavy ticketing in the Central Avenue area.

VOLUME II

    VOLUME II
  • TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side One (July 14, 1985)
  • Harry S. Truman's support of blacks in the armed forces--King's youthful expectation that integration would be easy--His earliest political activity--Becomes a Republican--Distrust of the Democratic party and their union activities in his mother's dress shop--Wages at the Dunbar Hotel--General Dwight D. Eisenhower's attitude toward blacks contrasted to attitudes of other generals--Eisenhower and the sending of troops to Little Rock--Dixiecrats versus liberal Democrats-King's reasons for voting for Eisenhower over Adlai E. Stevenson--King supports Democrats even though he is a Republican.


  • TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side Two (July 14, 1985)
  • Civil rights and the political parties--Beginnings of integration in Las Vegas--Picketing Las Vegas hotels--Buck West--Recent decline of number of blacks working in Las Vegas casinos--Black support of Norris Poulson.


  • TAPE NUMBER: X, Side One (July 14, 1985)
  • King transfers his support from Poulson to Samuel W. Yorty--Demands for integration of Los Angeles fire department--Police Chief William H. Parker's opposition to integration of police department--Campaigning for Sam Yorty--Trash disposal becomes an issue in Yorty's campaign--Yorty's conflict with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)--Black opposition to Yorty.


  • TAPE NUMBER: X, Side Two (July 14, 1985)
  • Yorty appoints blacks to office--King's mother, Leontyne Butler King, is appointed to Los Angeles City Board of Library Commissioners and promotes books by and about blacks in the libraries--King resigns from the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission when Mayor Thomas Bradley is elected--Yorty's administration makes concessions to Augustus F. Hawkins and H. Claude Hudson--Key blacks in Yorty's 1961 campaign--Yorty's relationship to the Democratic party establishment--King and others persuade Yorty to run for mayor in 1961--Blacks Yorty appointed to offices--LAPD raid on Muslim mosque in 1962--Increasing black equality during Yorty's administration.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XI, Side One (July 23, 1985)
  • Decision to support Yorty in order to get blacks into office--Political versus economic change--Careers which Yorty helped advance--Councilman Joe E. Hollingsworth's lack of responsiveness to the black community--Blacks become involved in both political parties--Appointment of nine black commissioners--Commissioners' declining status.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XI, Side Two (July 23, 1985)
  • Yorty's integrity and absence leanings--The Communist Party in the black community--Yorty of communist s lack of influence and Parker.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XII, Side One (August 7, 1985)
  • Unfulfilled expectations lead to the Watts riots--Parker's attitude toward the black community--Other factors which may have contributed to the riots--King's personal reaction to the riots--Meetings held to deal with the riots--Trying to get people off the streets at the arrival of the National Guard--The Temporary Alliance of Local Organizations (TALO) and the Black Congress--Preparing to post bonds for the rioters.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XII, Side Two (August 7, 1985)
  • King posts the bonds--Posting bonds for other civil rights cases--The government keeps many of the rioters off the street by charging them with felonies instead of misdemeanors--White merchants leave Watts--War on Poverty programs designed to fail--Black flight.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XIII, Side One (August 11, 1985)
  • More on the black flight phenomenon--Blacks' desire to escape the service industries reduces their economic power--Education a necessary step in obtaining better employment--White media's lack of credibility in the black community-Founding and funding Los Angeles Rumor Control and Information--Rumors that police killed a girl at George Washington Carver Junior High School.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XIII, Side Two (August 11, 1985)
  • Rumor Control relations with LAPD--Rumor Control mediates between various groups in the black community--Its use of the media--King serves as adviser to Olympic Rumor Control--His campaigns for political office--Pan-African studies faculty at California State University, Los Angeles.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XIV, Side One (August 11, 1985)
  • Credentials of Pan-African studies people at Cal State L.A.--Maulana Ron Karenga--Finance, faculty, and accreditation at Laurence University--King's membership in the California State Military Reserve and his work with the National Guard.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XV, Side One (March 27, 1987)
  • Streets in Los Angeles named after blacks--King's campaign to change Santa Barbara Avenue to Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard--The ordinance changing the street name is finally signed.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XV, Side Two (March 27, 1987)
  • Name change appealed to the California Supreme Court--March and rally in support of the name change--Black support for a city commission on human relations--Sam Yorty's campaign for mayor--Yorty appoints blacks to city positions--King is appointed to the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XVI, Side One (March 27, 1987)
  • Difficulties the human relations commission faced--Issues it dealt with during King's tenure-Members of the commission--The commission has the fire department's height requirements changed.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XVII, Side One (April 3, 1987)
  • King's involvement with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)--James Farmer, founder of COREIntegration of Torrance, California, housing project--King posts bonds for CORE activists-Demonstrations at a meeting of the Realtors--King receives award from CORE--Factions within CORE-Local and national leaders of CORE--The organization's internal problems--Its influence on the black student community.


  • TAPE NUMBER: XVII, Side Two (April 3, 1987)
  • King's involvement with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)--Appointment to the Black Education Commission--California Black Republican Council (CBRC)--Integration of Palm Springs--CBRC today--Black Agenda, Inc.--Involvement with the Southern California National Business League.


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Volume I

Tape Number: I, Side One
January 9, 1985

Tyler

We'll start by asking Mr. King to trace his family background as far as he cares to and offer as many details as he may know of his family background. Later, we'll see how he fits into that tradition himself. So, certainly from the information, you started tracing your family background in Houston, Texas. Are your family roots originally in Houston? Can you trace your family back prior to your father, grandfather, or even back further?


King

Well, I guess I can go back to my great-grandparents. I never have been much of a roots-type bug, but my family has lived long, lives all the way across the board; they've all lived well into their eighties, nineties, and my [paternal] grandmother [Sadie Nelson King] died earlier, well, about nine months ago, which was into last year, into 1984. She was 110 at the time that she passed. My father [Celestus A. King, Jr.] is presently eighty-three. As I understand it, my family, going back with my grandmother— She was born in Brenham, Texas. That is some place I guess in southeastern Texas. It was a small town. Apparently, the blacks that were there subscribe very much to the work ethic. They were fiercely independent and ended up with their own land and operated their own farm and other agrarian-type things, basically,


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and survived at that point.


Tyler

What years? Can you name any years?


King

Well, my grandmother was born, I believe, in 1874. So this means that prior to 1874 would be the starting point at which I can trace back my family. My family, basically, had a fairly tight unity. That portion of the family was my father's side. There were, I guess, six or seven children that were in the family with my grandmother. My grandmother was the second eldest of that group. The mother, which would've been my great-grandmother, apparently passed on and had left the burden on my grandmother—who was the second eldest child—and the eldest child. My understanding from just talking through the family is that my grandmother took over as sort of the woman of the house and kind of acted as the surrogate mother. They all grew up, never having a minute's trouble, as I understand it, with anything. They grew up so that on Sundays they did what you do on Sundays, which is put on your Sunday go-to-church clothes. They were very orderly in terms of a family. They always had good relations with everyone else in that community. Finally, they migrated over to Houston, and Houston was a budding town and was growing. So it was just a matter of time before they became very engulfed in the activities of Houston. [tape recorder off]



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Tyler

Actually, you had got up to the family moving to Houston. But perhaps let's hold that for a moment, and you might list some of the family names. You said they were farmers. What kind of crops did they grow? Did they own their land? How did they come by it? A few more details like that would give us a pretty good picture of how they actually lived. So you can proceed from there. Were they landowners? What kind of crops did they grow? What did they do with those crops? How well did they market them or whatever?


King

The original family name was Nelson. My grandmother's name was Sadie Nelson. She had an older sister named Bassie, and she had two brothers, one of whom, by the way, is still living. I think he's one hundred and one now. His name was Harry Nelson. There was a younger brother by the name of Jimmy [James] Nelson, who was a very small, petite, but extremely articulate and very bright young man. There was, in addition, two other sisters, one with the name of Loretta, who always through life carried a nickname of Sounce, which was—


Tyler

Sounce?


King

Sounce, yes.


Tyler

How do you spell that?


King

You know, I guess you just have to use your best guess to be sure. But my best guess would be just Sounce,


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S-O-U-N-C-E. It was a nickname. I don't have any idea where it came from. I simply grew up with it. And Precious and Elmer were the other sisters. If my recollection is correct, I believe that was the extent of the children. And then there was Papa [George] Nelson, who survived for quite a while. I do not know when he passed. But he did move the family into Houston. They did own their own land. They did live off of the land. I have never heard of them having any employment at all at the level of Brenham, Texas. But when they moved on to Houston, which was a larger town, the kids were growing up, they were all good students, they all learned well. Of course, they went to all-black schools.


Tyler

That's in Brenham?


King

I don't know the situation in Brenham but I would assume in Brenham they went to whatever the local black school was.


Tyler

Would that be probably public? Was it a school that handled many grades, many ages in one building, or what?


King

I got the impression on just a couple of random conversations with my grandmother that they went to sort of a one-room, two-room school and that all the kids from the neighborhood were all piled in.


Tyler

They walked to school, right?



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King

They walked to school, but there were horses that they did have. So, I guess, in some cases, they probably had the option of walking or riding on horses. But very, very strong stock of folks, who have always sort of used work as a religion. It was the thing to do. Everybody was orderly, and everybody knew that they had to get up and go to work and that they had to go to school and that they had to stay out of trouble; it was the way they all grew up.


Tyler

Was that typical of the neighborhood, or did this seem to be a unique family tradition? Was it based in religion or what? Necessity?


King

I think to a large extent their religion was work. I think that they really just believed in hard work. They were just fiercely independent as I understand it. They had a rigid code by which they selected friends. If the friends weren't pretty well a mirror reflection of them, they did not particularly associate with them.


Tyler

Was that sort of done naturally? Was that enforced or advocated by Papa Nelson and Sadie Nelson?


King

I think it was. It even hit me when I grew up as a youngster. When I can remember five, six, seven years old, I mean, that was all they pounded in me.


Tyler

In what way? I mean, what would they say?


King

It started from the time you woke up in the morning, you know: "Make your bed, clean your room up, sweep it


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out. Sweep it out today if you swept it out yesterday and the day before and the day before. Go outside, clean up the front yard." You know. Do whatever. We always had a lot of chores to do. I would imagine that this was basically the same pattern that they had, and it probably goes back to their farm days. There were a lot of reasons that I simply don't know as to why they moved to Houston, but, of course, a lot of people moved in from farming circumstance into places were there was consistent delivery of food; probably better facilities were available for other kind of things. I imagine that Houston, if you're going back that far, was really not that large of a town.


Tyler

What kind of crops did they grow in Brenham?


King

I really don't know what they grew down there.


Tyler

Was it a cash, market crop, or exchange, barter?


King

They did enough in order to keep a little cash flow, but I got the impression that they basically lived off of the land. I never kind of got the impression that there were large amounts of money around or that the farm was able to produce enough money for them to actually make a lot of money. But they were able to feed all of the kids and to take care of themselves quite well off of the land itself.


Tyler

What kind of farm animals? You mentioned red


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horses, perhaps a garden, chickens. Did they have any other animals? Cows, hogs, the whole deal?


King

I don't have any way of actually knowing, but I would assume that they probably did because their entire life at that particular point, as I understand it, was wrapped around survival off of the land itself. That was the background from which my grandmother came. This is Sadie Nelson King. She became the surrogate mother for the rest of these young folks. I've heard her say, you know, in the mornings that she would get up and see to it that they all got to school. She'd get up a couple of hours before them. Then at night, she was the last one to go to bed and the first one to get up. So she did not have a very easy task as a young lady. When the family moved on to Houston, she ultimately married my grandfather, who was Celestus A. King, Sr. I don't know very much about his parents except that they did grow up or he grew up in the Texas section.


Tyler

Celestus, right? With a T.


King

T-U-S. Yeah.


Tyler

Which is actually your name too, but you just use Celes.


King

I just contracted it because basically that's what people call me.


Tyler

Basically, they do it themselves.



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King

I just decided why fight it.


Tyler

Did they buy this land themselves? Did they inherit it from prior family, and when they left for Houston, did they sell it or maintain it, or what? How many acres?


King

I don't know the size of the acreage that they had.


Tyler

Flatland, trees, rolling hills? This is southeast Texas, right?


King

I've never been to Brenham, Texas. I've been to Houston many times, but never to Brenham, and, you know, it's something that maybe I ought to do at some point along the line. But again, I have not been very much into the roots kind of a situation.


Tyler

By reference from family members, do they ever mention the type of terrain?


King

No, but I do have Harry Nelson, who is one living relative who did grow up with those kids. He's a little over a hundred years old now. And it's a good point. I think I will go and look my granduncle up and just sit and chat with him about those days. It's my last opportunity to do so. I kind of glossed over those things when I had so many relatives that were around, all the aunts and the grandaunts and granduncles. It didn't seem like very unique or precious information at the time because it was


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so readily accessible from so many sources. I will—in fact, by the next time we speak—I will have gotten in touch with my granduncle, and I will carry him to lunch and sit down and talk to him for an hour or so. This has provoked an interest in something that should have occurred a long time ago.


Tyler

Did they own the land prior, or they worked and bought it? You're still not certain about that part?


King

No, but I'm going to unravel those answers for our next interview.


Tyler

You have a merchant minority tradition here, and I'm looking at how did you get property. Where did it start? How did you come by it? But anyway, why did they go to Houston? Greater opportunity? Did a lot of people leave? What was the population of Brenham? You got any impressions of what it was? Was it 1874 your grandmother was born?


King

Yes.


Tyler

You got any idea what the population was there and whether farming was normal for most people?


King

Clearly, farming had to be the dominant industry. I guess to some extent today cattle farming and other things are probably significant in those areas. I'm not— I just don't have that information clear as it goes back to those days, but as I did mention to you I'm going to speak with


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my granduncle Harry Nelson. He's very sharp, and he lived in Brenham, Texas, as a child. So he would probably be able to fill in those gaps that I've been running so much in the last whatever number of years till I never really took the time to do.


Tyler

Of course, now, there are a few more questions. Are there clear impressions that you have picked up? What was the status of your family in this time period in the black community? What would be the ratio of blacks to whites in this community? How were race relations? Were they bad, good? Were there any special family relationships your family had with blacks, a special relationship with whites, was it exceptional, unexceptional? Was there a conscious avoidance or contempt of whites, or was there an imitation or sponsorship by a white family or a black family? What about a church? Was there a relationship with a community church? Say, was a grandparent a deacon, deacon as in a church, leaders of the church, or what?


King

Fortunately, fortunately, if we can defer the answers to those and ultimately relate back to that, I have the two resource people: my dad, who would probably be more aware of that particular period; and then my uncle, as I mentioned, my granduncle, who in fact lived in Brenham. So there is a good possibility that I can put a lot of that together.



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Tyler

The point is to sort of get a cross section or balanced picture of this town and its functioning. Then I think this will raise questions that ultimately you can have on tape for yourself and your own family members to get a good idea [about] what did they do and what role they played with institutions or other people and groups.


King

Yes, certainly. I mean, my children have no idea, probably no concern with— And probably you'd have to press them for them to remember that there was a Brenham, Texas, in our background.


Tyler

It may not be important now, but later, when they think on this or they have their own kids, they'll have it; they'll be glad this was preserved later, [even] if they don't see it now.


King

You're absolutely right.


Tyler

Just like you said one time when all your family members were around and you didn't see the— You had other things, and then now it's thinning out; it will be lost if you don't get it. That's one of the things about foresight. They won't appreciate it now, but later they'll see the full benefits. And other family members where there's one or two who see that the tradition means something and they want to uphold it and build on it— It'll work out okay.


King

You're absolutely right, Bruce. You're absolutely


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right.


Tyler

Well, why did they move to Houston? When did they go? Was there any disaster? Was it a free choice? Were they forced out of town? Could have been a race riot and they fled, I don't know. The year they left. Did they sell their land? That sort of thing.


King

I'm making some notes here of a few questions. I'm also—


Tyler

But just proceed as you know, and we can come back at another meeting.


King

We're probably going to have to in order to make the piece have a base of integrity—


Tyler

Oh, this will be edited later and put together.


King

We're probably going to have to skip forward a little bit—


Tyler

Okay.


King

—and then go back and run that reel again, starting in Brenham, Texas, when I have more information. I'm eager for it already myself.


Tyler

Oh, good, good. Well, okay, go ahead with what you know about the move to Houston, what year, any impressions of why, or what happened, just whatever.


King

Well, I'd really like to pick up here with the portion that I have more of an understanding, which would be, oh, maybe, say the last fifty years, which would mean


13
picking up after my family on my father's side left Houston—


Tyler

Oh, okay, why don't you, sure.


King

—and moved to Chicago, and then we'll go back and fill in.


Tyler

Okay, good.


King

My mother [Leontyne Butler King] was born in New Orleans and lived there when she was a kid. She did not come from a large family. She came through the normal school system and attended one of the schools, I believe, in Louisiana that was fairly well known, and then went to Knoxville.


Tyler

Was this a high school you're talking about now, a secondary school that she attended?


King

It was college level, so she attended Knoxville College. I don't know very much about it; the old-timers seemed to really respond to Knoxville as a college. Ultimately, she ended up in Chicago with her mother [Hattie Butler Brown] and her aunt [Suggie Scott], and, ultimately, she and my father married.


Tyler

What year was she born?


King

She was born in 1905, and my dad was born in 1901.


Tyler

Now, what family occupation group was she a part of, any particular, with reference to—


King

None of the women ever had any professional kind of


14
a connotation to what they did. They all worked from time to time in retail outlets and basically took very good care of their family, followed their offspring on a day-to-day basis, and that was it. The men in the family basically took the burden to keep the family going.


Tyler

This is your mother's side. What occupation was your mother's father? What did he do for a living?


King

He [Papa Butler] worked on the railroad for some time, if my recollection is correct; I don't know how long.


Tyler

Do you know what railroad it was?


King

Maybe. I think it was Illinois Central [Railroad] that he worked for at that particular time.


Tyler

You don't know what he actually did?


King

He was probably a Pullman porter. I can get the more accurate details as I begin to think it through. But that was a source of employment when employment opportunities were extremely limited at that point.


Tyler

So if he was a Pullman porter in the Illinois Central, the New Orleans-Chicago connection was through his porter activities. Any knowledge about where he went? Did he boast or talk about the cities he went to? Did it play any role in his status or recognition in community affairs?


King

You know, he died when I was very young, and my grandmother remarried, and she married a gentleman who I always just responded to as a grandfather, whose name


15
happened to be Leon E. Brown; he had a very good job. He was a painter, and he too worked for the railroad as a painter.


Tyler

What did he paint?


King

He painted on a piece basis the things that went inside of the parlor cars and the Pullman coaches and the outside of the trains and those kinds of things. And I just remember as a kid that what— I can't remember a dollar figure, but he was always far above the norm in terms of the money that he would bring home, and there was always sort of a little bit of pride about the fact that he was able to be a technician and to be able to make—


Tyler

A craftsman, right? A skilled laborer. Was it through any special circumstances he got into that, through school, on the job promotion, personality, special connections? How did he happen— Was it ever discussed how he happened to become that sort of craftsman painter?


King

I only knew that he had the job; I did not know about the training. But it was a skill-level job, and that's why he was paid by the piece on the things that he did, rather— He was not an hourly employee.


Tyler

Was he self-employed then, and he just contracted with them, or was he employed by them? This sounds like he was sort of contracted.


King

No, he worked directly for the railroad people, but


16
he was paid by the piece. Apparently, the people who were paid by the hour received substantially less in terms of take-home pay than those people who worked their way somehow to being highly skilled employees. You got to remember, back in those days, a Pullman car was a big thing, and there were all sorts of little designs. And the lines now that come on the outside of an automobile, the stripes, they had stripes then, but they didn't put them on the same way. Now, a machine—


Tyler

Of course, the Pullman porter for blacks had high standards.


King

Yes.


Tyler

In terms of income, tips, they were middle-class property owners as a group.


King

Yes, they were.


Tyler

Now, did his income fluctuate? Was it consistent since he— You know, because if he's working by the piece, it sort of meant he was consistently employed. Either he may have, his income may have fluctuated, where there were months— Was it seasonal? Or were there months he was unemployed but made enough to carry him over?


King

Most of the time he was employed.


Tyler

Okay.


King

There were some brief periods I can remember, I think, between trains or whatever it would be. But they


17
were involved in the new trains or putting them together, painting them and getting them ready. I can remember as a kid when a new train would come off the line, he'd carry me with him, and we'd go out and we'd look at this train.


Tyler

This is in New Orleans?


King

No, this was in Chicago, when I was a kid, and I was always greatly impressed by the trains; it was a big thing. The quality of the work that went into those, especially those deluxe Pullman cars and things, was such that it was sort of the top of the line that you could possibly get.


Tyler

And you were quite aware of that as a little kid?


King

Oh, yeah, my grandfather made me aware of it.


Tyler

So he told you about— Well, of course, he took you with him there, so he was quite proud of his line of work himself?


King

He was very proud of it.


Tyler

Was he in a union?


King

No, there were no unions.


Tyler

Was there ever any attempt or struggles about that, any comments about that, or was it not a problem?


King

Well, he was very much a supporter of the people who owned the trains, whether it was the Pullman [Palace Car] Company, or whether it was the Union Pacific [Railroad]; they worked for various companies. Union Pacific, I can


18
recall putting together the new streamliner trains and those kinds of things. They had to do the final painting in connection with those, so he was always very supportive of his employer. We did not find things that were particularly wrong. That wasn't where he was looking from; he was always trying to improve his quality of work. I can remember him talking about it, you know, that he wanted to do a good job, and—


Tyler

He had a different mentality than, say, a person who had a strictly employee, semi-unskilled, or semi-skilled—


King

Yeah, he was very much in favor of the company. He was a pro-company person.


Tyler

It didn't cause him any problems, did it?


King

No, it didn't cause him any problems at all. In fact, most of the people that were friends of his that were working out there (and there were a few who did come around occasionally), they too were all trying to do what they could to help the company, because in helping the company they saw that that helped them.


Tyler

Of course, of course. Now, how long do you recall, how many years did you go to the yards? Did any other things special happen, or special occurrences in that relationship? Why did he sort of—


King

Well, I think it was an opportunity for him to show


19
the family what he had in fact been doing, vis-a-vis what he had been talking about all the time. We actually got out there and were able to see the things, and he would talk about the panels that he had done and actually go in and show us, "this work I did."


Tyler

So he took all of the family members, right?


King

He would take my grandmother on my mother's side, and he would take me, and once in a while there would be another member or so of the family. And it was an important event when a new train was ready to hit the tracks. It was front page in the Chicago Tribune, and the other paper— I've forgotten the name of the other one at this point, but I think it ended up being the [Chicago] Sun-Times or something, but it had another name at that point. And it was a major event. The streamliners that were coming across the country in the early thirties, they were made, or put together, or the final touches, or whatever it was, were done in South Chicago.


Tyler

Now, did he pick this skill up in New Orleans and move to Chicago with it?


King

I don't know where he got the skill from. When I became aware of him in that whole scenario was when my grandmother married him, and he was working for the railroad at that time.


Tyler

Had he worked as a young—



20
King

I don't have the slightest idea. He came into my life almost in a fixed position. And I never knew very much about his background, except that he had an intense pride in seeing to it that my grandmother was well taken care of and that she had the kind of things that were necessary to keep the family going. One of the things that he used to do is he would bring his check in, and they had a strict budget, and he had a certain amount that he would go and frolic with on Saturday nights, and he spent it to the penny, and everything always just worked out quite orderly. And even when other people, other families, were having real difficulty, he always seemed to have a job; just once in a while, between trains, if they didn't have a train to be worked on, but he was one of the better technicians, and they always—


Tyler

Now, this is the thirties, the Depression, right?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

So he was well insulated from that.


King

He was insulated from it, but the psychological impact of the Depression did hit him, because he knew that if he lost that one job, that there was no place else to go and work. I can remember him talking about the importance of him being the best, because he could not go and find another job anyplace that would pay that kind of money to him.



21
Tyler

Did he make any comments about why he felt that way? Because I know there probably was— Was there a race factor? Of course, we know that jobs were difficult anyway. Also, well, did he ever talk about any race factors?


King

Never do I recall him having much difficulty along the racial, from a racial standpoint. I never really remember that being a factor in what he did. He did it and he was a craftsman and did it well, and apparently these were black jobs.


Tyler

These were black jobs in general?


King

In general.


Tyler

At the wage scale?


King

At that high wage scale, most of the people that he was working with were black. Now, the people over them and the people under them were not necessarily that, but he didn't have any black supervisors as such, and he was able to work overtime if he chose to because they paid him by the piece, and it worked out just great for him. I remember that. He was always in a position to throw me a nickel once in a while—hey, that was a big thing, you know—and say, "Hey, go and get an ice-cream cone," or something like that. For a nickel you could get an ice-cream cone that you couldn't see over, it was so big. [laughter]



22
Tyler

That's sort of amazing, because I would— Normally, you would suspect that that was a well-paying job, well-paying by black or white standards, or working-class standards in general; there was no bumping or racial ranking to bump them from those jobs? Or at least you're not aware of any pressure by whites to bump blacks from those jobs. They were pretty secure, it seems.


King

They were. They were part of that whole scene, and, yes, they were secure, and they had those jobs and they kept them. I don't ever recall any black-white tensions that he had from the job. And I can remember that everyone that I saw when I was a kid when we went out to the job, it was always very, very cordial, and they would always speak to him with the normal, in the normal kind of a way, which would be a level of respect as a person, and smiles and the cordiality were all there. I never saw any racial conflict at all any of the times that I went out to the place where these railroad cars were painted.


Tyler

Let me hold here for a moment.



23

Tape Number: II, Side One
February 27, 1985

Tyler

Well, when we talked last, we talked about Chicago, but you tell me that you picked up some information on the earlier period in Brenham, Texas, right?


King

I had a discussion with my father [Celestus A. King, Jr.]; it wasn't as long as I wanted it to be, but it never is when I talk to my dad, because he's a most interesting person. He began to talk about it, and I told him, "Hey, just ramble along in terms of discussion, don't worry too much about putting it in some kind of real context," and he went back to the latter part of last century in looking at the family, and he talked about his grandfather, whose name was George [Nelson]. One of the questions that you would ask me was, what did George do for a living? How did he survive? I learned a lot of things that I really wasn't that aware of about my own family as a result of this. My dad tells me that he was a barber and that he had his own barber shop and that five days a week that he worked in that barber shop, and because of that he knew everything that was going on, not only in the town, but for miles around. He was a source of information and, I guess as we sometimes describe it around here, the rumor parade. So my dad went on to say that on weekends—and he apparently was a very industrious guy—on weekends he was a Baptist


24
preacher. Now, he did not preach in Brenham, Texas, so every weekend he would go to one of the surrounding communities, and he would be the guest Baptist preacher. Now, I didn't know that I had a Baptist preacher in my background; no one had ever mentioned it. I just simply knew that my great-grandfather was a barber; that I had heard. They apparently owned their own place, which was a piece of land, and they did grow some food on it for their own use. It was not a commercial farm or ranch-type situation, but it was designed to feed the family, and they had some livestock and other kinds of things like that. So it turned out that they were self-sustaining because they had the land and could put together the food for the table, and in addition to that, of course, my grandfather, well, I guess my great-grandfather was able at that particular point to get money from outside, so he had two sources of income plus the home.

Now, it turns out that as I further discussed this matter with my dad, he tells me that the reason why they moved from Brenham, Texas—the entire family picked up and left—was because of a lynching that occurred in that town. My dad also tells me that in that town today that the very facility, whether it was a tree or whatever it happened to be, is still in that town as a reminder to the people that are there. It was a matter of a black who—


25
It was a fornication-type situation where he simply looked, he turned his head as he went by a white woman and looked at her. And that was the thing that provoked his death; he was hung as a result of that in the middle of the town.

I shall look forward to going back there. I had talked to a person some time ago, who was a relative of Lucius Lomax [Sr.], who also grew up in that town, and it was one of their grandkids or whatever who went back to that town and then wrote me a letter and then sent me a copy of the piece that they put together which appeared in some newspaper. I probably have it down in my files; I did read it in detail. And it just became literally too tough for blacks to continue living in Brenham, Texas. That was the straw that broke the camel's back.


Tyler

So quite a few other people left because of that lynching?


King

Yes, most of the black people that were in Brenham, Texas, left Brenham, Texas. They simply moved out, and they went to Houston.


Tyler

So there must have been threat of greater violence, or that was just so shocking?


King

Well, I gather that it was both, that this was a very shocking situation and also the continuing possibility of violence. There were some very fine people that came out of that area. All were hardworking, all made a real


26
effort to raise their families and tried to be reasonably good citizens, as I understand it. There was a gambling house that was down there where they played cards and those kinds of things. I guess that was probably a part of the Old West anyway, but a lot of stories apparently came out of the gambling house.


Tyler

What year did the lynching take place? It would be the year they moved.


King

I asked my dad, and he did tell me the year, and I think it was something like 1886, but I will recheck that date with him. My grandmother [Sadie Nelson King], who just died last year in 1984, was born in Brenham, and then they moved over to Houston. She was born about that time; she lived to be one hundred and ten years old, so the family was still there one hundred and ten years ago for sure, and it was shortly after she was born. There were a number of children on my father's side, at my grandparents' level. There were probably, I guess, seven or eight children. It is down now to the point where only one is living; he's a hundred and two at this point, and he lives here in Inglewood. His name is Harry Nelson. But every one of those of that King family, which was really the Nelson family at that time, every one of those folks lived to be well into their eighties and nineties. It was most unusual to hear of them even being ill; they just lived


27
good lives all the way through. One of my uncles, the one who is still living now, I guess did have some minor problems, and he moved to Tucson to get where the air was drier, and other kind of same things; and it looks like to me that whatever it was, it wasn't too serious because he's still around, and he's a hundred and two.


Tyler

Now, what happened to most of these people's property? Did they dispose of it, or what?


King

It's my intention to go out and speak with Harry Nelson, who probably was very familiar with whatever happened to the property. I'm not too sure whether or not he was in fact born, probably was, in Brenham, but as a kid, he would undoubtedly have known whether or not the property was sold, expropriated, or whatever could have happened at that point, but it was almost, as I understand it, as far as the legend goes, that my whole family virtually packed up and just got out of Brenham, Texas.


Tyler

Okay, was that the extent of the story that he told you? Was there additional information, stories about Brenham, related?


King

Apparently, my family lived a fairly uneventful life: they went to school; they were all well-educated, given the circumstance and the needs at that time; all of them, as far as I know, I cannot ever remember any of the people that were at my grandmother's level ever even being


28
arrested, much less charged with an offense even. I never even heard it in the family that anyone ever had a problem that caused them to, well, have to deal with the law as such. They were very much law-abiding, very much self-sustaining. I never remember any of them ever being anything except very frugal, but yet always in a reasonable, at a reasonable level, so that they were able to sustain themselves and be pleased with the life-style that they were involved with.


Tyler

Was this Harry that was telling you this information?


King

This was my father.


Tyler

Oh, your father. Did he say anything, how did your great-grandfather George become a barber, how did he become a minister, how did that happen, or he just stated it?


King

He just stated it as a fact, and I intend to sit down and have some lengthy conversations with both my father and my granduncle, because the time is fleeting along these lines, and I think that it will end up that I will probably be the resource for my family.


Tyler

Well, why not? Well, okay, is that the extent of what you've picked up so far about Brenham, again until—


King

Yes, it is.


Tyler

Okay, well, why not shift back to Chicago where we left off? [laughter]



29
King

Okay.


Tyler

Some of the questions I have here that—because we're almost ready to jump off to coming to California. Let's see now, did you give us the year that you went to Chicago?


King

Well, I was born there September 18, 1923, at Saint Luke's Hospital, a hospital that on many times I went by.


Tyler

Saint Luke's. How did you happen to get born there?


King

Well, I didn't have very much to do with it, but I was very pleased, when I, you know, I was very pleased that we were able to be at a private hospital. All along, it was regarded as somewhat of a plus. Many people were born, of course, at the county hospital; those were some difficult days.


Tyler

What was the county hospital?


King

Well, the Cook County Hospital, and that was where people went, I guess, who could not muster up the dollars in order to handle those situations.


Tyler

Saint Luke was then a church-sponsored hospital?


King

Well, it had a church name, so I gather that it was church sponsored. Back in those days, I guess, the churches could afford to individually probably be the deciding financial factor as far as hospitals were concerned. I guess as time has gone along, hospitals have


30
turned out to be a business, just like any other business. The donations, I'm sure, help.

I grew up in Chicago on the South Side. The section was described as "Woodlawn," and it was regarded as certainly one of the better black communities that was in Chicago. We were probably about six or seven miles from Lake Michigan, and all of the area, probably five miles of that was an all-white area; there were no blacks at all that lived in that area. It was called Hyde Park, and Hyde Park, I guess named after the Hyde Park in London. There were little strips that we could go down in order to get to the lake in the summer. We used to take the trolley car, and the trolley car, the cost was all of three cents to get on it, and you could ride across either Sixty-seventh Street, which was very close to where I was, or Sixty-third Street, both of those were major arterial streets that went to the lake.

When we got out to the lake, there was a small area where blacks could swim, and it was fenced off, and you had to stay inside of the fenced area that they had. Now, the fenced area was sufficiently wide, and there was enough room, and there was enough sand for the people that went out there, and, of course, the water was no different, whether you were there or not. I grew up under those circumstances, and I pretty well expected that when you


31
went to the beach that you were to look for the area, and that was where you went in swimming.


Tyler

Now, who established the area?


King

The area was established before I got there, but it was vigorously enforced by two things: one, the blacks themselves would see to it that blacks stayed inside the area because they did not want to get into racial flareups, because generally there were many, many more whites around than there were blacks. So blacks themselves saw to it, "Hey, don't go over there." I can remember when I was a kid, and really it never bothered me, not in the least did it bother me.

When it began to bother me was at a time when I was beginning to learn to swim a little bit better, and I went down to the local YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] almost every day, so my swimming ability was improving, and I wanted to swim a little further out, and I wanted to swim a little further down. Then there was a place that was about a half a mile down where there was a bridge, and this bridge went into a lagoon and a marina where there were some local people, well, some people that had boats who, whether they were local or not, I'm not that certain. And the white boys used to dive off of this bridge. Somebody would stand on the other side and holler that there's no boat coming, and they'd dive off this bridge. This bridge


32
was about thirty feet or so in the air, and there was just no place else that you could find where you could dive thirty feet. In all of Chicago, on the beach, I guess, wrapping completely around Lake Michigan, this was it, and there were no thirty-foot diving platforms in any of the pools that existed, and I wanted to go off of that.

And at that point, my swimming ability was going up, and I had been to the YMCA camp, and I'd been awarded a little triangle that I'm sure I'll never forget—goodness knows I wish I still had it—and I think the name of it was Camp Dowagiac up in Michigan, and it was a lake up there, and it was about a mile wide. And I swam across the lake. To me that was a real great event bcause of all the youngsters that were up there, there were only a dozen or so that had swam across the lake. It really wasn't dangerous because they'd lead you in a rowboat; a couple of your friends would get in, stay in a rowboat, so if you ever really got tired, you could always, you know, climb up in the boat, as most people did, because most people didn't make it. And now that I look back, hell, it was all psychological because I'm sure that most of the people that were swimming could swim it easy, but the fact that "it's a mile, it's a mile," that was the big topic of discussion.

So, anyway, I'd got to the point where I could swim pretty good, so one day I made up my mind. I said, "I'm


33
going down, and I'm going off of that bridge." I went down there and I was by myself, and there was no one to watch for me on the other side. And I ran over across the street, which was maybe— It was a kind of a wide street, forty, fifty, sixty feet wide, wide for those days. And I took a look, and there was nothing coming. I ran back over on the other side, and I didn't dive in. Okay, I jumped in, sort of feet first, and bundled up in a little ball, you know, if you've seen that kind of thing. And I went down and I hit, and I went down and I came up, and all of a sudden in my mind, that was the biggest event that had occurred to me in my whole lifetime.

I had this half a mile or so to negotiate to get back to the black section in order to come up, so I swam out a considerable distance. My normal breathing style would have been that my head would have come up toward the beach, but I picked up air looking out toward the center of the lake, and swam this half a mile. And then when I got down to the section where I could see that fence, then I began to cut on, and then I came up in the black section. Well, word got out that I, you know, had done that. I think the next day I came back and all—


Tyler

Word got out to who?


King

Word got out to the community.


Tyler

Black and white?



34
King

Oh, no, not to the white community, but to the black community. I never knew what the white community was thinking anyway, never had any way of knowing it. Well, all the youngsters, then, everybody was saying, "We want to go down there." And everybody wanted to be able to come back and say that they had done the same thing.

The following day I went down there, and this time when I went down, I did a dive, because a number of people followed me down there. This time I had someone to watch for me, and as a direct result of that a stream of people began then, from the black end, began to go down and dive and swim this half a mile. No incident ever occurred. They knew we were doing it; the word then ultimately was out to the people that were watching the park and other kind of things. It was completely uneventful. We probably had the biggest psychological problem, but it didn't seem to really bother anybody else. We stayed way out when we swam this half a mile, and, of course, we were always afraid that someone may drown because it was a long swim. Nothing ever happened to anybody, and we kind of worked it out so that everybody went in twos rather than just one at a time. But that was the first time I'd really been on the vanguard of breaking into something that threw me sort of apart from the group and tossed me out; that was leadership.



35
Tyler

How old were you then?


King

Let's see, maybe twelve, eleven, something like that, and that was leadership. I didn't realize it was leadership.


Tyler

But it still had a big impact on you then; you knew it was important.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

And other people thought it was.


King

All the guys, all the big guys that were around, you know, that had gotten their lifeguard credentials and junior lifeguard credentials, they could all swim it, but they didn't have the courage to swim through that white zone, and it just didn't occur to me. I said, "They can't see me, they can't tell. One way or the other, if I stay out, fine, I can make it." And I think that was one of the things that helped me develop an attitude that whatever other folks are doing, you have to make your own appraisal of situations, look at your abilities, look at the task, and go for it. Somewhat like my attitude now. And I guess I've used it as a principle, and that is that my attitude is basically that if you have a bird in the hand and there are two in the bush, and you look at that bush pretty clear, and you can see what the prospects are of being able to get them, you let go of that one bird, and you go for the two. [laughter] But you have to be able to really


36
look at the circumstance before you make the run for the gold.

I never had any excessive high-level athletic skills, but when I say that I was never on the basketball team, except when we'd go to camp, I was on the team that was sort of adhocly put together. I didn't have enough interests in terms of the track team to want to stay around at night and run up and down the halls. And that's basically where the track team ran. When it was cold in Chicago, you would run up and down the halls. They would even set hurdles up, you know, in the halls, and you'd run down the halls, and that was after school. None of that really appealed to me, even though I had respectable times.


Tyler

Now what school—junior high, high school?


King

When I made it to high school— I guess I should back up just a little bit and talk about grade school. I went to a school called McCosh Grammar School; it was a grammar school in the Woodlawn area of South Chicago. I moved through the school program with minimal difficulty. I skipped one half-grade, I think it was in the fourth grade.


Tyler

So you had an A-B system?


King

Well, they had an advancement system, if you were able to be in—it was somewhat like the top 2 or 3 percent of the class—you could skip a grade.



37
Tyler

The year was divided into half a grade, you know, like remember L.A. [Los Angeles] used to have A-B, B6, A6?


King

Yes, I understand now. It's been a long time since I've heard the term, I'd kind of forgotten. You're absolutely right, there was an A and a B; what I skipped was a half a year, not a full year. They didn't have a system where you skipped a full year, but you could skip half a grade, so you could skip and maybe miss the latter part of, say, the fourth grade. And I think I went into fourth and then did the first half and skipped the second half, and went into the fifth grade.


Tyler

Who picked up on that? The school system picked up on that, or did your parents push it, or what?


King

It was really my teacher. The teachers were all local; most of the teachers lived in the same area.


Tyler

Black teachers?


King

Black teachers that we had; the principal and the assistant principal and the administration crew were white, but most of the teachers were black teachers.


Tyler

Male, female?


King

Female, mostly. I don't remember any male teachers that I had. When I was in kindergarten, first grade, like that, we had white teachers. When we got second, third, fourth, fifth, along in there, they were black teachers in the black community.



38
Tyler

Were they fully credentialed teachers?


King

Fully credentialed teachers in Chicago.


Tyler

Were they graduates of northern or southern schools?


King

You know, I really don't even recall, except that most had moved there from the South—their families had— but the younger ones had all finished college, locally, and I don't even recall the names of most of my teachers. A few I do at this particular point. But I can remember, my teacher would come to my house, not because things were bad, but just to come there and talk to my parents: what I was doing with arithmetic, how I was doing in other subjects. Teacher would get off of work, just like I'd get out of school. Almost once a month, one of my teachers would be there. Now, I think at that time we had two teachers, one in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. That's my best recollection, I can't remember at what grade that started. In the very early grades, of course, it was one teacher for all day, but they really— There was no such thing as not doing your homework. There was no such thing really as even showing up late for school. I mean these teachers, there was so much communication going on between your parents and the teachers, until you didn't have any choice.


Tyler

Was this common? So this wasn't particularly you


39
that they would visit, they would visit other people too, other families?


King

Oh, yes. And even some of the community activities and socializing activities that occurred, those teachers and their families would be there. I remember this teacher that skipped me a grade, she just lived a couple of blocks from where I lived, so we were all out there, same community.


Tyler

So you might see them at the store or church or wherever.


King

Absolutely. Absolutely. And it was somewhat of a neighborhood thing even in those days, a big town like Chicago. You know, you did have public transportation there that would allow you to go a long way from your home, but, of course, nothing like today when everybody has their own automobile and they can jump in it and go twenty, thirty miles in a comparatively short period of time. But there we did have the elevated cars and we had the streetcar system, and you could go out of your area, but in spite of that, you spent most of your time within a few blocks where your home was.


Tyler

You mean kids or adults?


King

Kids. You just simply didn't go. Now, the big thing was to get a bicycle, and when you got the bicycle, you did have your own transportation, and you could go. I


40
was a kind of a loner as to one thing that I did, and other than that, I was pretty much sort of a normal kid around: I was a loner in that I had this almost compelling desire to be interested in flying, and the airport still in Chicago— Oh, I guess it was about ten, twelve miles from where I lived. That was a long bicycle ride in those days, so I couldn't go out there after school everyday because there wasn't enough time for me to make it, but on Saturday mornings when everybody else was out playing baseball down on the corner lot, I was out there hitting the street with my bike.


Tyler

You had got a bike when?


King

I got a bike fairly early.


Tyler

This is a two-wheeler, right?


King

Two-wheeler, it was a twenty-six-inch— That I remember, because all the larger kids had twenty-eight-inch wheels. That was the big thing, twenty-six and twenty-eight-inch wheels. I guess ten, eleven, twelve years old, I was interested in flying. Nobody else in that community had any interest whatsoever.


Tyler

Black.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

How did your interest develop in flying?


King

I don't have the slightest idea, I don't have the slightest idea. I don't even know, I can't remember any


41
signal point when I was that age.


Tyler

Not even the thirty-foot dive?


King

No, that didn't have anything to do with that. That was all about water, and I used to like to swim.


Tyler

Did you see the planes fly over?


King

On occasion, I'd see the planes fly over. I knew that there was an airport where blacks used to fly, Harlem Airport, and once in a while we would hear about some black that was flying, and that was a big event.


Tyler

The Flying Eagle, the guy from Harlem? [laughter]


King

Yeah, this Harlem Airport was a place that on a few occasions I was able to get out there. It was owned by a woman, by a black woman [Willa Brown].


Tyler

You're not talking about New York Harlem.


King

No, in Chicago, it was called the Harlem Airport.


Tyler

Any particular reason that was the actual name?


King

Probably they named it because of Harlem; that was the name of it, Harlem Airport. That was the only black airport. And, of course, nobody had any money to fly in those days, but once in a while they would get up.


Tyler

Did your bike have anything to do with it, that you could get out and explore, and that was something to explore, like a museum or something?


King

I was interested in aviation before the bike. I remember even going out there on the streetcar, and that


42
was a big thing to give up like six cents worth of money, which was round-trip; that was probably the big end of my discretionary money for the week.


Tyler

Do you remember your first trip there? What sparked it? Somebody took you, or did you always go on your own when you got involved?


King

I kind of slipped out there. I never told my parents, I never told anybody. I used to try to get some of the kids to go along with me, and none of them had any interest.


Tyler

Why, was nothing in their consciousness?


King

No, it just didn't even ring bells at all. So I'd go out there, and I would go to the end of the runway. Planes would be taking off, and I would see them go, and get a large bottle of soda. You could get a big, huge bottle of soda for six cents, and I'd stay there and kind of nurse that soda along. I'd stay just as long as I could, and I couldn't get into the airport where the planes were, those kind of things.


Tyler

Was it fenced off?


King

Yeah, it was fenced off.


Tyler

What time would you go? You'd go the weekends in the morning?


King

I'd go out on the weekends, yeah, and stay out there all day long.



43
Tyler

Just watching the planes?


King

Yeah, and I'd walk around the perimeter; I didn't get inside. I never even walked in the lobby portion of it. You know, I'd kind of peep in there, you know, and then keep on going. But I didn't go inside the lobby and those things. And I was around on the outside of the fence, just like you'd see kids going to watch baseball games, well, I was going to watch planes.


Tyler

Why were you on the outside? You said the black airport, then you said this other airport.


King

The Harlem Airport was too far out for me to go; it was just too many miles for me to be able to make it on my bike, to make it there and then to get back. It was considerably further.


Tyler

But you said it was a black airport. What was the airport you were going to?


King

Okay, I was going to the municipal metro airport [Chicago Municipal Airport].


Tyler

Is that what it was called then? Before O'Hare [International Airport].


King

Right, right.


Tyler

This was a white airport, was it?


King

Yes.


Tyler

There was a black and a white airport? Was this segregated?



44
King

Okay, the black airport was nothing but a strip. It didn't have any asphalt on it, nothing. It was just where some planes were, some hangars. Some planes were there; they were hangared down, where the other was a commercial venture. They were flying DC-3's out of there, which was the big airplane at that time, and the other place had Stinsons where the two-seater tandem-type arrangement without tops, so that they really looked good. You could see a pilot in there, you could see him fly. And, of course, there were controls in both seats, so that two people could go up. They also had some little small craft like Piper Cubs and little Taylors.


Tyler

This is at Harlem.


King

No, not at the Harlem, at the metro municipal airport, yeah. They had the real biggies, like the DC-3's, which, of course, now you could put almost under the tail section of one of the large planes now, but it was a big airplane, very remarkably safe. They are still flying that airplane, by the way, those DC-3's. It's still a workhorse, you know, in many places, after all these years. It's funny how the technology supposedly improved so much, but the things that were good before are still good.


Tyler

Now, why were the airports in Chicago strictly segregated?



45
King

Well, the Harlem Airport was really just a plot of land, and it had some of the trappings of an airport; it was not a commercial airport. I'm talking about like a small, private airport.


Tyler

The blacks could use the municipal airport, too?


King

Now that I think back on the situation, I don't even remember seeing blacks out there getting on airplanes, and it's pretty clear to me and I just don't even remember seeing blacks going in and out of the place. I don't know whether the services were offered to blacks, but I just don't even recall seeing blacks as I think back on the situation.


Tyler

When you first started going to the municipal airport, how old were you?


King

Ten. Ten years old.


Tyler

So that was probably just before the dive you made. You said you were about eleven or twelve when you made the dive. So you had this prior to that dive.


King

Yes, well, now, I did buy the little airplanes at the Woolworth five-and-ten-cent store, and I used to sit in my front room on the floor, and that rug that I, that was under me there, I recently gave to my granddaughter [Tyie Renson] and, of course, my parents had it before my parents gave it to me—and now it's in my granddaughter's bedroom.


Tyler

This is a rug?



46
King

It's a rug, yeah.


Tyler

Someone made it?


King

No, just an ordinary, nice, front-room rug, nothing spectacular about it, except that it means something to us in the family. But, anyway, I used to sit up there on that rug for hours and hours putting together aircrafts.


Tyler

Plastic with glue?


King

Wasn't plastic, it was real wood at that time. Whittle the wood slivers, I'd make airplanes, and I began to understand what lift was and how you could determine the coefficient of lift, and tail sections, and what elevators did, and the ailerons did, and what the empennage section was, and how much thrust was necessary. And, of course, my big thrust was a rubber band. [laughter]


Tyler

Yes, yes, yes.


King

But the fascination with airplanes was absolutely just undying with me. More than almost anything, I wanted to be a pilot. I just thought that that was the top of the arc, to become a pilot. My mind was so set on it, until it was just as natural for me to end up in the air force and have wings pinned on me, as it is for someone who is seven foot tall winding up playing basketball. I knew that I was going to be a pilot, and I knew I was going to be a good pilot, a great pilot in my own perception. I think it was something that was important. Because by the time I was


47
twenty years old, I was a pilot in the air force and an officer.


Tyler

That was World War II.


King

That was World War II. That's kind of skipping ahead. The question about moving to California was a fairly complex situation as far as my family was concerned.


Tyler

Let me hold on here. This is going to run out.



48

Tape Number: II, Side Two
March 5, 1985

Tyler

We were talking about your youth experiences in Chicago last time. To take up from there a bit, did your family go to church, or join any church there in Chicago?


King

My mother [Leontyne Butler King] attended church every Sunday; she never missed. Church was a part not only of our religious life, but a part of our social life. There were activities that arose out of attending church, and it was an absolute must. On the other side, my dad had minimal interest in church activities, but [he] would always go along to the more fashionable social things that arose out of churches. My first trip from Chicago was coming out with a group that was made up in Reverend Cobbs's church. Cobbs was a nationally known and recognized preacher, Clarence Cobbs. He owned the church at Forty-third [Street] and Wabash [Avenue] in Chicago, and had a very, very large congregation.


Tyler

What was the name of the church?


King

I am trying to remember the name of the church, and I simply cannot remember it. It was an independently styled church. They were one of the first churches in Chicago to have a Sunday night radio program, so the level of popularity of the church was quite high. Reverend Cobbs used to come out here and bring an entourage with him every


49
year to California.


Tyler

During what, the thirties?


King

Back in the thirties and the forties and the fifties and the sixties. It was an annual kind of a situation for him to come out.


Tyler

For what?


King

It was part of the church activities; generally in Chicago, it's cold in January. He also used to spend a lot of his leisure time going to Santa Anita, out at the race track. He wasn't that much of a bettor, but he liked the environment out there, he liked the background of the mountains, and how it looked in California. He was a hard worker though, and generally when he was in California, they would always have a number of activities for him, some that were directly social, but most that were built around his church activities. He was linked into a church that was one of the dominant churches in Los Angeles. The name of that church was the Independent Church of Christ, which was at Eighteenth [Street] and Paloma [Street], and it was a Reverend Diggs who was the minister there. I can't recall whatever happened to Diggs (probably he died), and a very young man by the name of Clayton [D.] Russell ascended to becoming the minister at that church. So as a result of that, our interaction with the church— It was our first trip to California, and I think if I'm not mistaken, that was


50
1937. It was. It was in '37; it was in 1937 that my dad drove here to California. So, in answer to your question, the church did have a great deal of influence in my early life, both in Chicago and here in Los Angeles.

As I kind of think back, in Chicago, I remember we used to get sweet potatoes and go build a fire, and we would sit around and huddle around the fire, and we'd do that all winter long and sort of roast the potatoes. Of course, things were really, really tough back in those thirties, and in particular it was very difficult for my family. My mother did have a job: she worked at Jacob's Dress Shop that was located on Forty-seventh Street near South Park Way, which later, by the way, many years later was renamed Martin Luther King Avenue. But my mother worked there: she worked six days a week, she worked generally fairly long hours, but that was the custom. However, she did quite well because she was very well known on the South Side of Chicago as a young lady and many of her friends came to the store to make purchases, so she ultimately became very significant in that store operation. Now, times were tough then, and it was very difficult to get a job. My dad was out of work for a considerable period of time, and I can remember we had a Mormon automobile, which was at that time a very expensive automobile, and very few people— [background noises; tape


51
recorder off] I'm not too sure where I was.


Tyler

Well, you were talking about—


King

Oh, the difficult days in Chicago. I can remember on one occasion when I walked out to the front of our house when we lived in an area called Woodlawn, which was regarded as one of the better black communities on the South Side.


Tyler

What street did you live on?


King

Saint Lawrence Avenue, which ran into Washington Park, where there were a lot of activities all summer long. I remember walking outside and looking at one of the tires on the Mormon, and one of the tires had worn so thin until the innertube was sticking out of the side of the tire, and my dad had to be extremely careful how he drove it, because if he went up next to the curb, well, he would tear the innertube, and the tire would go flat. But he was an excellent driver, and we got around, a few gallons of gas here, and a few there. But my dad refused to accept any sort of assistance. We lived in a duplex, in that there was— It was a two-apartment building, and my parents owned their own building at that time. We ultimately had to move out; I guess the payment on the building was thirty dollars a month or something.


Tyler

Now, this is an apartment building.


King

Two units, one on top of the other.



52
Tyler

And both of those were apartments, right?


King

Right. Very large.


Tyler

Was it isolated like a single building or was it joined in?


King

It was a single building that had two apartments, one above and one down. By the way, my dad still owns a building here that's a duplex, and he lived there for twenty-five years, and it was similar with two apartments, one above the other. It was a very nice place to live. I had my own room. It had a full dining room. I can't remember that we had two baths, I think we only had one bath.


Tyler

For the two apartments—


King

No, these were completely separate apartments.


Tyler

Oh, okay.


King

I think there was one bath, and it was a two-bedroom apartment, but it had [a] front room, [a] dining room, [and] kitchen, adequate closets. It was a very nice place to grow up in. And so was the community of Woodlawn; the people out there were very nice; they were all trying to get someplace. You could see it and you could feel it, that the people were interested in moving along. Most of the people that were out there had gone as far as they could educationally at that time. The norms at that time, of course, were that if you finished high school, you had


53
pretty well put yourself in a position where you could go somewhat to the outside world. There was the community-college-type situation, even back in those days, and people were scrambling, trying to get the two-year degree. But there was no question it was a community that had people who were industrious and on the way up. Our unique situation arose because my father just refused to accept any sort of assistance. The assistance at that time was called relief. What they would do is they would bring food to your house. They would bring flour and rice, and the truck would just simply drive down the neighborhood. Somehow, there was a requisition or something of that nature that was put in, and they simply delivered it from these big trucks, and it was food there for you to be able to eat: navy beans and red beans, and on and on and on. But my dad—


Tyler

Any meats, milks?


King

I don't really recall the milk part, I just remember a lot of dry-type things that they used to have. My dad refused to accept relief, so it really meant that there were a lot of times that we just about had no food in the house.


Tyler

Was this relief carried out by the federal government or the county or the state?


King

I think it was probably the county or the city. I


54
don't think that it was federal. That's my best recollection on the relief situation. [Franklin D.] Roosevelt came along at that time, and he began to provide some sort of employment through the WPA [Works Progress Administration], and that was very helpful. People made fifty-five dollars a month and, of course, they were involved in a lot of projects. My dad had been fairly successful; he, to some extent, was a self-educated person, but he had finished from Lane Tech High School, had become a very proficient bookkeeper and had picked up several jobs as a bookkeeper. He ultimately became involved in a black cab company in Chicago that was called Your Taxi Company and was doing fairly well for a while. And I guess as time went on, a new approach took place, and that was the jitney system, which ran up and down the arterial streets. Ultimately [it] took the personal cab companies virtually out of the business. The jitneys would go up and down streets like South Park Way, Michigan [Avenue]. You could ride the jitney for ten cents. There was no privacy factor; you just get in the jitney, and, fine; it was a cab. In any event, I know that we looked up, and the last thing that I kind of recall is that the cab company went out of business. My dad then took a job working for Murray's, the hair-pomade people.


Tyler

Is that a black-owned business?



55
King

It was completely black-owned. My dad became the controller, and they did quite well. Murray's is a product that is still on the shelves of drugstores today. And it appears to me to be the same identical product. It's a hair preparation, and, of course, they had a few other things too.


Tyler

We used to call it stiff grease.


King

I think it's the same today as it was back in the early thirties. As time went along, though, instead of Murray's actually growing, Murray's kind of went down a little bit. But Murray—


Tyler

Any sense of time?


King

Oh, I guess about '34 or something like that, give or take a year.


Tyler

Was that the year your father worked there? `Thirty-four?


King

My dad, I think, worked there like [in] '31, '32, '33, along on that particular time.


Tyler

How long did he work for Your Taxi Company?


King

I can't really recall, but it was several years that he worked with Your Taxi. I think he had part of the ownership of Your Taxi. I can't remember all of the details because I was fairly young at the time.


Tyler

But this was just prior to going to work for Murray's?



56
King

Yes.


Tyler

So he worked at Murray's '31, '32, '33.


King

And then about '34 or so, I think the job at Murray's played out. Murray's was a great situation for me, because we had the opportunity to go up to what was called Murray's Ranch. It was in Michigan, I've forgotten the city that it was in, but it meant that during the summer on Sundays we would leave early in the morning, on some occasions, and sometimes on Saturdays, generally once a month or so. And we'd go up, and we'd stay at Murray's Ranch. It was called a farm. I guess I've been on the West Coast so long, I call everything a ranch, but it was a farm. Up there they had all kinds of animals. It gave me an opportunity to be exposed to a little bit of an agrarian-type life, and how people lived off the land. His place was very elegant up there, because on a comparative basis, he was very well-off. [Charles] Murray had a very good cash flow, and those kind of things. So the Murray's situation was very good. I really enjoyed that period.


Tyler

How many summers did you get to go?


King

It seemed to me like it was two or three summers.


Tyler

You said, "We would go." Who would that be?


King

The family, the whole family.


Tyler

The whole family?


King

Yeah, well, the whole family consisted of three of


57
us: my mother and father and me, and they always took me along.


Tyler

How long would this last?


King

One day or two days. Sometimes one day, sometimes two days.


Tyler

Would you drive up?


King

Yeah, we'd drive up to his place.


Tyler

He would be there?


King

Oh, yes.


Tyler

Would other families be there, or just your family?


King

Generally two or three families, and in general it was someone that they wanted to do business with, and they would invite them up, so they used it for commercial purposes in addition to it being a self-sustaining farm. There was, I believe, a couple, a man and his wife, who stayed up there all the time. And I can remember that Mr. Murray had a large automobile, I can't remember what it was, but it was something like a Pierce-Arrow, something like that, some very impressive automobile. He also had a son, who we called Junior Murray, who was extremely athletic. He was a few years older than I was, and he was somewhat of a role model for me to try to follow. He was a good role model to a point, but the time that I was around him, he was an excellent role model.


Tyler

In what way?



58
King

Well, he was athletic. He was a wrestler at school. He had earned several letters, and he had done very well in school.


Tyler

This is at what age level now?


King

I guess we're talking about a kid who was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and at the time I was probably like ten, maybe eleven years old.


Tyler

So he was ninth, tenth grade?


King

Yeah, well, he was in high school. I kind of remember he'd just gotten into high school, and he made the wrestling team, and that was big news around Chicago.


Tyler

Oh, really? What high school?


King

It's hard for me to remember even the high school that he attended. But all the local papers carried the story, Chicago Defender, there were several other papers around. I think one was called the [Chicago] Bee and they carried the fact that this kid, you know, had made the wrestling team.


Tyler

Why was that so important?


King

Well, it was simply important because he was a local kid who looked like he was on the way up.


Tyler

In wrestling?


King

In everything. It just looked like he had all the avenues that were out there and available, and that there was just nothing that could stop him. It was going to be


59
straight ahead. Of course, it turned out that his whole career did fizz as time went on, both as an individual and— Of course, wrestling only has so much in terms of what its potential is. It's just great. I think he did make it into college, and I think he was on the wrestling team in college too, but my recollection is he did not finish college, and spun out, and then became a professional wrestler—just didn't go, didn't go very far simply because you can't go very far.


Tyler

Now, this was in the Woodlawn area where they would have gone to high school?


King

I lived in Woodlawn, and it seemed like to me that the Murrays lived in a more affluent neighborhood than ours, even though ours was sort of above the average as far as black communities were concerned. But it seems like to me that they lived someplace near Drexel Boulevard and Cottage Grove [Avenue] and along there, which was an older section of town with very large homes, very large, elaborate homes at that particular point. A few of them had been taken over by blacks. They clearly were in an economic class that allowed them to have those kind of things.


Tyler

So your neighborhood, in terms of racial make-up, and the neighborhood that the Murrays lived in were what?


King

Oh, they were both black neighborhoods. The only


60
thing is that a lot of the professionals and the people who had businesses and the people who had access to resources lived in this sort of little island area along Drexel and along in that area. There were not that many. Reverend Cobbs, that I spoke of, he was one of those who had a very nice home. He lived more in the middle of the black community, but it was along Michigan Boulevard. Very nice, beautiful home.

Later on, I was to go back to Chicago when the lady who's probably been the most important part of my life, Anita [Givens King], when we kind of eloped and went back to Chicago and got married, but I guess that's jumping ahead.


Tyler

Well, were the schools—what was the racial makeup of the school you went to in Chicago and the school that Murray Jr. went to? Were they the same schools, different schools?


King

They were different schools. I don't really recall where he was attending school, as I had mentioned, but the school that I attended, McCosh Grammar School, was all black, except some of the teachers were white and all of the administrators were white. It was an excellent school. You could not attend McCosh Grammar School without learning. There was no such thing as anybody going through there without learning reading, writing, and arithmetic; it


61
could not happen. They just did not let it happen. I mean, they set you down and you learned. And you had homework, and that next day you had your homework there. And as I mentioned early on, they didn't send simply a letter home to your parents, they didn't just phone your parents because most of us didn't have phones at that time. My house still had a phone, but we couldn't use it very much. [laughter]


Tyler

Why?


King

We didn't have the money to use it.


Tyler

But it was working, right?


King

It was there and it was working, but you couldn't use it.


Tyler

The kids couldn't use it? I mean you couldn't use it.


King

No one really used it, my mother and dad hardly ever used it. And I just don't hardly ever remember making a phone call on it. It was there.


Tyler

They just would receive calls? Or was it for extreme emergencies?


King

Well, we didn't even receive that many calls. I mean, it was tough back in those days. Each call cost a nickle. And there was a little box that was inside of your home, and when you got ready to use that phone, you picked it up and you dropped that nickel in there. We didn't have


62
any nickels.


Tyler

Oh. It was like the public phones now? It's in your house, but you had to pay to use it.


King

That is correct.


Tyler

Oh, really, I didn't know that.


King

Yeah, you had to pay to use it back in the thirties. Everytime you made a call you had to drop a nickel in it.


Tyler

I guess that was before technology got ahead now where they can gauge it.


King

That was one way people kept phones though, because it kept them off the phone, because they didn't have the nickel. They couldn't spare that nickel. A nickel would go a long way. You look at one of these large one-liter bottles, which—of course, we were using ounces at that time—but you could buy a twenty-five-ounce (which was like a fifth of a gallon) big bottle of soda for six cents. I mean, that was enough to carry you for the whole day, you know, back in those days. You could buy a loaf of bread for a dime. You could get some rice and some dry beans for a half a dollar; I mean, you could put a pretty good meal on the table. I grew up eating lima beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas; once in a while we were able to have some sort of meat in them. I can remember just as clear as yesterday seeing a sign across the street from where my


63
grandmother lived, which was at about Thirty-eighth [Street] and Indiana [Avenue], a sign saying "Neckbones, six pounds for a dime." You'd have the rice and the beans, and then you'd scrape off some meat, put it in there for flavoring. Let me tell you, I still like beans and rice; I never felt that I was deprived of anything. I was always very, very satisfied and pleased. In a way, I think I was very pleased that my dad did not accept relief.


Tyler

Why?


King

Well, it put a genuine level of self-esteem in me that, whatever we have to do, that we will work. We will find work, and we will maintain ourselves, and we really don't need the state to come in, or the county probably as it was in that case, and handle our problems. Whatever our problems were we should be able to handle them, and we should be able to make things work. So, my dad was very, very independent. He used to get up every morning, put on his suit and a tie and go out of that front door and look for work. He must have looked for work for two years, and he looked five days a week. Every morning he got up, went out looking for work. Now, my mother had a job, and ultimately I—


Tyler

But now you said— Well, go ahead.


King

That was from about '35 to—it had to be fully a year and a half; he didn't really pick up a job until the


64
latter part of '36 or beginning of 1937.


Tyler

So that's after Your Taxi and Murray's played out.


King

Yes.


Tyler

So he—


King

My mother was working—


Tyler

That's when he first had his unemployment problems. Up to that time, he did fairly okay.


King

Yeah, we didn't have it even that tough at that point, because my dad set up a mail-order business inside of the house, and we used to sell items by mail. Basically, he sold small items, some health items that were the same thing as vitamin pills are today. We would buy them, and then people would mail in for them. He'd put small ads in [newspapers]. Vitamins were not that big of a thing at that particular point, and were sort of what we'd now look at as multiple-vitamin tablets and those kinds of things, you know, where they're all over the drugstore and everyplace else; they were not at that time. I've forgotten the company that manufactured them, but it was something like [E. R.] Squibb [and Sons] or one of the major companies. And he actually set up a business right in the dining room, and we put these ads in the paper, and everyday when I would get off from school, it was up to me—they sold them in, I don't know, twenty-five tablets or a month's supply or two month's supply—I would take them,


65
put them into little mailer boxes, and we would send them off to people across the country COD. And he advertised in Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, [New York] Amsterdam News, none of the papers on the West Coast, but I believe it was the Louisville Defender, the Houston paper and the New Orleans paper. So he advertised basically in the black press, and he actually made his own job when he could not find a job.


Tyler

Did this work out okay? Did he make money?


King

We made enough only to sustain ourselves. He did not make any large amounts of money at all, but we made a few dollars a week, and, like I say, he spent every day out looking for work. Ultimately, he found a job. The job that he found was working for a wine distributor. I think it was called Gold Label, and they used to distribute wine, blackberry wine in particular, I remember, because there was always blackberry wine in the ice box, not always milk, but always—


Tyler

Was this in Chicago? A Chicago winery?


King

In Chicago. They were distributors. I'm not too sure where the wine came from; I think some of it came from the West Coast and some of it came from Pennsylvania and those places where they had wine, and, of course, he developed his route and he did quite well in relation to the maximum potential.



66
Tyler

Now, what year or season did he start this?


King

We're into 1936 when he got that job. Some odd things were happening: he did have a part-time job, and that part-time job was on weekends. He would drive my great-aunt, whose name was Kitty Nelson, he would drive her over to Detroit, because in Detroit— This goes back, oh, I guess several years back. On weekends he would drive her to Detroit, because my great-uncle James Nelson was living five days a week in Detroit and then coming back on some weekends. He was involved in what's called a policy business over there, which was the numbers business. He was very, very much a nontypical type numbers operator: he was a little guy, didn't weigh over 135 pounds, maybe 5'7"; and he was in a business that was active in every black community in America, which was numbers and policy, so he wanted to be sure that his dollars were safe that he made. Each week they would go over and pick them up, pick up whatever money he had made—over to Detroit (it's about a three-hundred-mile drive) and then come back over to Chicago—and they would, you know, put the money in the vault.


Tyler

Whose vault was this?


King

This vault was kind of a family vault, where my uncle would put the money.


Tyler

Your father kept the vault?



67
King

I think the vault was actually in my dad's name. I'd have to ask him, but I think it was actually in his name.


Tyler

Okay, it wasn't in the home. It was in a bank or something?


King

They had two: they had one in their home, and they had one in a bank in a depository. The money— They didn't trust banks at that time, so the money was not in a bank. They didn't want to take the chance on banks folding and other kinds of things.


Tyler

So what's the difference with a depository?


King

Well, the depository was a situation where you had rent boxes; you could go in and rent a box.


Tyler

In a bank?


King

Yes, a safety deposit box.


Tyler

But if the bank collapsed, you got your box back.


King

You still have your box, that's right. You won't worry about how they handle the money and other things in there because you didn't deposit anything in the bank. Too many banks had gone broke, and too many other problems with banks. So my uncle saved a lot of his money, and they lived in a very nice section of town, which was on Michigan Boulevard. They had a nice, large house, and the one thing I really remember about it more than anything else was it had an elevator in the house.



68
Tyler

Was that unusual?


King

Most unusual.


Tyler

It still is unusual.


King

Yeah, most, most unusual. Now, the elevator was really like, not the elevators of today, by any means, but it was one of the first elevators, I guess. Those houses that were along Michigan Boulevard would be very similar to some very elitist, old section of almost any of the larger communities, like here in Los Angeles, for instance, on Adams Boulevard from Figueroa [Street] going west, some of those old, very large, beautiful homes.

Now, my aunt was partially paralyzed but yet could do anything that anyone else could. She just had a problem, I believe it was, with her left arm, but other than that there was nothing that she wasn't able to do. Now, they were the very wealthy end of our family. Example, I think I can remember in 1935 my aunt went to Europe. Well, for blacks to go to Europe in 1935. [laughter] That was unusual.


Tyler

She was going there for what? Vacation?


King

Vacation. That was unusual. Ultimately, in 1936, Jimmy Nelson came to Los Angeles and had a fortuitous meeting in the lobby of the Dunbar Hotel, and at that time that hotel was the place, of course. It had gone into foreclosure; it had been built by [J. Alexander]


69
Somerville, who was a dentist here and quite a visionary, because he wanted a good place for blacks to be able to stay. And my uncle bought the hotel, if my information is correct, for $87,500 cash in 1936.


Tyler

But that wasn't from Somerville in '36, could it be?


King

No, he bought it from the mortgage company. Somerville had lost his interest in the property; it had been foreclosed away from him, to some extent.


Tyler

Because in his autobiography, he opened in 1928; they had the twenty-second annual NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] convention there and [W. E. B.] Du Bois came out. In '29, he [Somerville] was in a crisis, the next year. Well, he totally lost in a lawsuit, a lot of it, or what I don't know after that. He certainly said that he was having a problem in '29 and had to get rid of it. But, anyway.


King

Yes, he no longer had ownership of the hotel at that point, and it was difficult for most people. It just so happened that my uncle had made a considerable amount of money.


Tyler

Now, how did he pay for that? You said it was $87,000 for the hotel?


King

He paid for it cash.


Tyler

Really, in full? That was the money he had


70
acquired—


King

Yes.


Tyler

—solely in that area?


King

Right. He sold everything that he had in Chicago after he had purchased the hotel, and he moved lock, stock, and barrel. He walked out of Detroit, he walked out of Chicago, and he came here.


Tyler

Any particular reason for that?


King

Yes, there was a reason. The business that he was in, the numbers business, was falling under attack, and he basically was a very mild-mannered person. His background was that he was one of those kids that was born in Brenham, Texas, ultimately moved to Houston, and ultimately got a job on the railroad. He was so small though until— [He] started out for a very short period of time being a Pullman porter, but he couldn't pick up the bags; the bags were too heavy for him. So he had a nice personality, and [was] a clean-cut young man, so they moved him into the dining car.


Tyler

What route was he? What areas did he mainly—


King

I think it was on the SP [Southern Pacific Company], if I'm not mistaken, but I really—


Tyler

What cities and states—


King

Maybe it was Union Pacific [Railroad]. I think it was Union Pacific, because I think he did run to the coast out here.



71
Tyler

From Chicago or where? Texas?


King

Yeah, from Chicago.


Tyler

Did he start with the railroads in Texas?


King

I think he started with the railroad when he got to Chicago, and he had a hard time then even carrying the trays of plates, so they used to give him the station closest to the kitchen so he wouldn't have as far to walk with them.



72

Tape Number: III, Side One
April 13, 1985

Tyler

Okay, Mr. Celes King, we [are] back on the scene again.


King

Hey, listen, it's a pleasure to have you back too. That interlude was one for the books. [King ran for city treasurer in the April 1985 Los Angeles City election—Ed.]


Tyler

Well, that happens, that happens, but we shall persevere.


King

It was a favorable interlude. I don't want to give the impression— I was just hitting five to eight meetings a day, generally speaking at about half of those. And I would say that I got more pluses out of it than minuses. And we still drew forty thousand votes. You can't knock that.


Tyler

Well, I should have been there with the tape recorder.


King

Well, you would have heard the political rhetoric at its height.


Tyler

Well, we had left off with Chicago, and we had covered your youth there, the experiences you've had in school. Were there any significant peer group experiences that seemed to have been very important in Chicago?


King

I think probably the things that influenced me most, of course, were my family. I had a cousin by the name of


73
Jackie Davis, and we grew up somewhat like sister and brother, because she was an only child, and I was an only child. I would say that she was clearly a favorable influence, because she was a girl who basically did everything right, and that was important, because she was a good model of a young lady.


Tyler

In what sort of way, as sort of an example or [in] concrete terms, was she a good model? What did she do? Like clean language, church, or ambitious? What?


King

There was not church as a major factor, but she was almost impeccable in terms of her conduct. She handled herself very well under all circumstances. She never got involved in anything that had any rowdyism to it. She had a close set of friends that were always— If you had to look at a difficult black community, if there was a level called elitism, and elite not in that it was the kind of thing that you would say it was snobbish, along that line, but just the people who lived a good, superclean type of life; she was representative of all those kinds of things. I never remember her having any difficulties whatsoever. Always stayed out of anything that had any possibility of trouble written on it. The young group that I grew up with in Woodlawn was basically a good group of people too. Their families stayed right up with them; they kept up with them. They saw to it that they did little


74
things from homework to menial chores, and the neighborhood itself was one where everyone seemed to have some knowledge and concern for the youngsters that were there. We used to put fires together down in the vacant lot, and we would take sweet potatoes and those kinds of things and cook them; our recreation was very, very simple. But yet I would say there was always the possibility that we could have been involved in other things. But it did not come to pass: we did not have much gang activity and those kinds of things. Yet, twenty blocks from there, from where I lived, there were gang activities, gang fights, all sorts of things, but we had a reasonably nice neighborhood. The area was called Woodlawn at the time, and it was on sort of the far South Side, as far as blacks were concerned. It was a good neighborhood. I enjoyed growing up there, and most of the people that came through the process of living out there turned out quite well.


Tyler

Woodlawn Organization is one of the reform black groups there now, I think from the sixties or so, along the Saul Alinsky lines. It's still pretty organized, built a reputation for reforming the community.


King

I am, of course, reaching back to 1935, '36, '37. I think it was in 1937 when I finished grammar school, and one of the very delightful things that occurred to me is that some few years later, when I finished down at


75
Tuskegee, both having attended Tuskegee Institute and the flying school there, I was invited back by my grade school to speak at an assembly. Nothing could have made me feel better than to have that opportunity. And some of the same teachers were still at the school, so it was very good. When I finished grade school—


Tyler

McCosh [Grammar School]?


King

McCosh. When I finished grade school, I went to Tilden Tech[nical] High School. In Chicago, eight grades were in the grammar school and four grades in the high school. So when I got to the ninth grade, I decided to go to a technical school, Tilden Tech. I felt that if I got to this technical school that I would learn things that would put me in a position to be able to make a living. I would learn something about plumbing, electrical things, automobile repair—things that were clearly forseeable as a way to make a living. We did not have the entire array of limitless possibilities that were out there.

So I went to Tilden, and while there I struck up some friendships with some of the white group, and I remember so well how easy it was for us to get along, even though there were black-white-type fights. The fellow and I became very close friends that was in several of my classes, and a number of the other people who were white, we got along with very well. The guy was, he was Polish, and, of


76
course, I didn't know the difference between a Polack and a Scot.


Tyler

Just white.


King

Yeah, they all pretty well looked alike, and, of course, I had none of the biases within myself; they were not hardened. I knew of nothing else, having grown up in a very restricted society, a black society. It was not a big thing. I mean, we got along quite well; it didn't require any second thoughts on my part or on the Polish fellow's part. It has been so long now, until I have forgotten the names, but we got along quite well. We did not have a lot of socializing, except at school.


Tyler

Did you commute back and forth to this school? It wasn't a live-in situation or a dormitory situation?


King

No, it was a long trip. It was at 4747 Union [Street], and, of course, I lived in South Chicago.


Tyler

Was this a public school?


King

It was a public school.


Tyler

But you had to get special permission to go there?


King

No, because it was a technical school. They had Lane Tech in Chicago, which was the school that my father had attended. And this was Tilden Tech. Now, I've always had a great admiration for my father [Celestus A. King, Jr.], and certainly still do today. And the fact that he had gone to a technical school was another reason why I


77
wanted to go to a technical school, because of knowing and having so much respect for my father that my father had really caused me to have, and for quite just cause. So I would say that it was the first really black-white kind of relationships, integrated circumstance that I had been involved in. And it was as smooth as silk. I mean, there was no big thing in terms of the flow.


Tyler

Had Lane been integrated?


King

Lane had been an integrated school in Chicago that my dad had attended, so it meant that Lane went way back in terms of integration. And the same thing as far as Tilden Tech was concerned. You basically had the neighborhood patterns, and it meant that a lot of black students, of course, went to black schools, because the neighborhood pattern caused that kind of a flow.


Tyler

But if you got out and went to one of the technical schools, then that cut across neighborhood patterns.


King

It did; it threw you in into a clearly integrated school. The other high school that was sort of in the area was Inglewood High School, and Inglewood High School did have black and white students attending. But I was very pleased with the results of learning some basic skills that have stood with me all these years: the basic understanding of electricity, and how to make minor repairs. I learned those things as a kid. Taking


78
woodshop, where we used our hands and we did a hands-on-type situation; that too has been with me. I learned auto mechanics, and, of course, as a kid who was interested in flying, tinkering around with automobiles or having that opportunity was very important. So I was pleased about that whole experience.


Tyler

Did you make that decision yourself? Or was that a family decision? One family member directed you to Tilden? How was that decision made?


King

I made the decision and kind of submitted it to my dad, just for them sort of to validate—to my mother and father. My mother [Leontyne Butler King] was just interested that I would get reasonable grades. I don't think she ever cared what school I went to as long as I got reasonable grades and I attended the classes. But I think my dad was more conscious of the fact that if I went there that I would learn something, that there would be a possibility of being able to pick up a job. After all, you got to remember, those were the days when you had lawyers and doctors that were working in the post office simply because they had to be able to sustain themselves and their families. And jobs were very, very hard to come by. We all in our community knew, though, that if you had basic kind of skills, that you could always be an entrepreneur. As long as you knew how to do something and the need was


79
out there, you could find the people and put the two things together and feed your family.


Tyler

So then, they weren't heavy-handed in directing you in that regard?


King

No. I never did have that really as a problem. I think that—


Tyler

Was there any particular reason, like was it give you a choice to sort of make your own decision, or was it— Was there any particular pattern you can perceive why that was done? Was that a conscious decision, or was it— Well, like we said with your mother, she just didn't have the focus that intensely.


King

I think it was just basically that they wanted to put me in a position so that I could make a living, and they knew that education was important, and that if I was going to be able to make a living, I needed to stay in school.


Tyler

Did they have any well-established social vision for you that you could perceive, or even understood at this age, or even earlier?


King

Well, they wanted me to be a success, and they really made it clear that if you're a financial success, it's very easy to bridge the other gaps, and that if you aren't able to take care and sustain yourself, you're going to have problems everyplace. And I think they made that


80
perfectly clear.


Tyler

Perfectly clear, right. One of the things I decided, "Hey, I'm going to Kentucky." If I can live middle class anywhere— If you're poor no matter where you are, you're in bad shape.


King

I agree with you on that. You know, Chicago was the only place that I had ever known, so we had to fit, I had to fit things within that kind of a context. Tell you one thing, the community that I grew up in was very political: the ward captains worked the community.


Tyler

Were they black ward captains?


King

Black ward captains, but there was sort of a superintendent who was around who generally was white, who would come around—


Tyler

Do you remember his name?


King

No, no, when I was a kid, he'd come around on election day, and he always took care of everyone. When we were kids, he gave us candy and ice cream on election day.


Tyler

Did he make it clear who he was and what his political affiliation was, and to tell your parents, or what?


King

Yes, yes, it was definite; they let it be known. And I kind of remember that clearly. I guess it could have been as far back as 1933 when there was quite a change; starting a few years before that, I guess, a number of


81
black Republicans had been switching over and identifying themselves as black Democrats. But I do recall in the clearest of terms in 1936 when [Alfred M.] Landon ran against [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, and it was a landslide, absolute landslide in favor of Roosevelt. I remember that, by and large, it was the Republican group that seemed to be working the hardest. And they'd come by and knock on the door and say hello in cordial ways. And I remember election night going to Sixty-seventh [Street] and Saint Lawrence [Avenue], and they had ice cream and cake for the kids, and other things for the adults.


Tyler

The Republicans?


King

Yeah. That's going back to 1936. I was trying to pull together a clear recollection of some of those little election-type activities, but I can recall that they would give us little items and tell us, "Here, go put these on the automobiles and go throw these at the doors." And I got involved in politics because it was fun and games, and they did have the ice cream and the cake and the suckers and the balloons. God, here we were, really youngsters around then, and we were participating. And that was my kind of first understanding of politics. I got that at an early age.


Tyler

So these politicians in some ways went over the parents' heads and rounded up the kids on the streets.



82
King

You might say that they did in one way, but we all pretty well volunteered. I mean, we used to flop down there.


Tyler

Well, who wouldn't with that kind of— In other words, did they go through the black churches?


King

No, this was done on a neighborhood basis. They had the ward, you know, the ward captains, and they knew all the kids anyway. They knew every kid; they could identify everyone. A ward captain back in those days in Chicago, his job was dependent upon his being able to deliver the vote. So, yes, they started working with us quite early. It always seemed to come up around election time; it was not a continuing kind of thing, week in, week out, but come election time, hey, they were out there, and they were doing their number. At that point, that was when I began to take notice of what was happening out there.


Tyler

Well, you couldn't help to with that kind of attraction. Now, did they keep the black vote in Chicago in '36, or did blacks shift over to Roosevelt there, as you recollect? I mean, because, you know, blacks, that was the shift. Blacks shifted in '36.


King

Yeah, that was the big shift. It was only after that that it became noticeable that a shift had occurred, to me.


Tyler

What about your parents? Did they make the shift


83
then?


King

No, they didn't ever shift. They stayed Republicans.


Tyler

Why? That seems fascinating to me.


King

They stayed Republicans; they did not shift.


Tyler

Did they ever shift later?


King

Never.


Tyler

Why?


King

I think that to some extent that it was just a high level of independence that they had. They did not want to be involved with trends. They believed basically that you should be able to take care of yourself, that you should be able to get a job, and, of course, my dad had some very difficult years at that point. He was unable to secure employment for several years, but he was out every morning with a suit on looking for a job.


Tyler

What did he live on? His savings? Or work he got here and there?


King

You know, I really just don't know, but we didn't live that well, I'll tell you that. My mother had an excellent job. She worked at a dress shop, and it meant that she could get very nice clothing for herself, and she did have a pretty good take-home, or take-away, income; it was a good job. I think she used to make maybe a low of twenty-five when she started, and probably ended up with


84
thirty-five a week.


Tyler

This is in the Depression years?


King

Yes, yeah. She ultimately worked her way to manager of the store, and that meant that—


Tyler

Was that Nelson's store?


King

No, that was a store called Jacob's, and it was on Forty-seventh Street.


Tyler

Was that a major, big department store?


King

No, it wasn't a major department store. It was a womenswear store, and she ended up becoming the buyer, and I think that's how she ended up with the additional ten dollars a week. She has a real good knack for those kind of things, and she did it quite well. My mother ultimately became an outstanding dresser, and for at least—after we moved to Los Angeles—for at least fifteen years, she was always in the best dressed women's group in Los Angeles. Of course, this basically was the black community, but she was well dressed. She knew and understood how to buy, and once you have learned that part of the game, you can generally, you know, make it through. For years on end, she was always sort of the best dressed woman in black Los Angeles.


Tyler

Now, so then your family, basically, was not very receptive to the New Deal programs, you know, the make-work, WPA [Works Progress Administration], CWA [Civil Works


85
Administration], and all that.


King

Yeah, my dad never took one of those jobs.


Tyler

He could have.


King

I would say, probably, yes, he could have taken one of those jobs, but he did not take one.


Tyler

Was that typical of Woodlawn area in the Depression? How did the Depression affect Woodlawn and most other black families there?


King

Woodlawn came out fairly well, but you did see the relief truck driving down the street out there, and they were making several stops in each block.


Tyler

Giving food?


King

Yeah, food. They would deliver food packages; they would deliver rice and canned goods, and deliver it directly to the residents.


Tyler

Was that regarded with a sense of shame, welfare to the families there?


King

No, I don't think so. I think that no one particularly wanted to receive it. But I think everybody quickly understood that if you were going to survive, you couldn't do it without eating, and you couldn't send those kids out to school without food. As I mentioned, my dad absolutely refused to accept relief, and it meant that, you know, we frequently had very, very little to eat. In fact, I can remember our basic diet was beans and rice; rice was


86
inexpensive, beans were inexpensive, and it was a big thing whenever my dad would get a piece of salt pork, and he was able to cut it up in pieces and drop it into the beans. [laughter]


Tyler

That was the good times.


King

That's right, and you could buy neckbones back in those days for four pounds for a dime, but you didn't have the dime.


Tyler

That famous slogan, "Brother, can you spare a dime?"


King

It was a slogan well worth using, because for a dime, you could get quite a bit. I remember I used to be able to buy for a nickel large hot dogs, and they were well worth it, too. I mean, the Dodger Dog that they charge whatever for now, a nickel would do it back in those days.


Tyler

What events led up to the decision to leave Chicago and go to L.A.?


King

Well, I had made a trip with my grandmother to Los Angeles in the early thirties.


Tyler

Her name?


King

Sadie Nelson King.


Tyler

Oh, Sadie King, okay.


King

And she brought my cousin and I out here, because she was fond of California, and Los Angeles in particular, and wanted to come back here. She had come to Los Angeles


87
first in 1905 and had tried to make it out here and was unable to do so. But she always had in her mind she wanted to come back. So when I was—I guess this was the early thirties—maybe I was ten or eleven years old, more like ten, we made the trip to California, and we stayed on Thirty-seventh Street, near Avalon [Boulevard]. She had a friend here, and so we had a place to live when we got here. There were just about no places to stay, even though the Dunbar [Hotel] was here.


Tyler

In the thirties?


King

Yeah, the Dunbar was here in the thirties.


Tyler

No, no, I meant there was no place to stay. L.A. was overcrowded?


King

Basically, blacks travelled by going and staying with friends. That was the method that blacks basically used in the early thirties. If you were going to a town, you communicated with your friend, and you stayed at your friend's house, friend or relative. So when I came out here as a little kid, I can remember seeing the palm trees and the other kinds of things, and I liked it too. My mother and father had not been out here, but when I went back, I told them about how beautiful it was out here, and so I think that I helped plant the seed. But the real turning point was my uncle, who—well, he was my granduncle, Jimmy [James] Nelson—when he bought the major


88
edifice at that particular time, which was the Dunbar [Hotel].


Tyler

What year?


King

He bought it in the latter part of 1936, and then my dad came out in '37 to manage the hotel for him, and then my mother and I came out in '38.


Tyler

So then the hotel was one of the big attractions to come, because it was going to be this family business, or what?


King

It was it. We came out here because of that building; the final deciding factor to come was because of the building. When we moved here, we bought a building; the building had five units, and it was about a quarter of a block from Central Avenue on Forty-second Place, diagonally across the street from the Dunbar Hotel, so it worked out just fine.


Tyler

So that's where you all moved, into that apartment you bought? Now, who bought that, your father, or Nelson, Jimmy?


King

My grandmother and my dad pooled together whatever was necessary for the down payment. The place itself was self-sustaining, because there were five units on one lot, so it was self-sustaining. And then they had me around there to keep it as clean as a pin, and I did keep it clean as a pin. I hosed down the driveway and watered the grass;


89
it was a very simple chore for me, and I enjoyed doing it.


Tyler

Now, the apartment building in the Dunbar, well, obviously was, and the area, was considered very middle-class then, or what? What would be the sort of label you would put on it?


King

The area itself was a good area. It was one of the better areas as far as Los Angeles was concerned in 1937, '38. It was really, I guess, the premier area. Blacks had come to Los Angeles and, years ago, had initially settled down in the Fifth Street area, and then ultimately Sixth, and then Eighth, and then Twelfth Street was the number one place for many, many years. And when I arrived here—


Tyler

Twelfth and Central [Avenue]?


King

Twelfth and Central.


Tyler

That's where they stopped the Zoot-Suit riots in '43. Anyway.


King

Twelfth and Central was sort of the place, and then as time went by, it moved out to Washington [Boulevard], and Washington and Central Avenue, and then Forty-second Place was way out south.


Tyler

In the late thirties?


King

Yes. It was—


Tyler

So that didn't become a real focus till when, the forties? Forty-second and Central Avenue. The Dunbar was built in '28.



90
King

Okay, the area was the key area, and that's where the action was, right? But, in spite of the fact that that's where the action was, it was still regarded as quite far out. See, you're going to a time when there were no blacks who attended Fremont High School. I mean none. There were a few blacks that lived on Thirty-seventh Street, Thirty-sixth Place, Thirty-fifth in between Western [Avenue] and Vermont [Avenue]. My uncle bought two apartment buildings when he came here, in addition to the hotel, and they were on Thirty-sixth Place, west of Western Avenue. I was able to use that address in order to go into Manual Arts High School. Manual Arts High School had about thirty-one hundred students, of which thirty-three were black, when I entered that school. But the neighborhood pattern was still the prevailing thing. If you can visualize the situation, at that point as I remember it, Jefferson High School was the black high school; probably 90 percent of the students there were minority students, some of whom were Hispanic, because when you went east of Jefferson High School going toward Alameda [Street], Long Beach Boulevard and over there, most of the people that lived west of Long Beach Boulevard were Hispanics. At that time, all the major black athletes came out of Jefferson High, and there were just a few others that were scattered around all of Los Angeles. Later, good athletes showed up


91
at Manual Arts and at Polytechnic [High School], which is now a community college. And there were very, very few blacks at both Los Angeles High School and at Dorsey High School. There were a very few, just a couple of pockets. Now, most of the blacks that were attending Dorsey High School did not live in Dorsey High School's area, and they were able to pick up addresses over there, so that they could sign on.


Tyler

Was this one of the tactics of the aspiring blacks?


King

Well, I think a lot of blacks wanted to move on what we call the Westside. Actually, if you look at a map of Los Angeles, it is not the Westside, but it became the west side of South Los Angeles.


Tyler

Yeah.


King

So we always called it the Westside.


Tyler

Of course, that Westside concept is still with us, because that's where the higher status community is constantly moving, right? Not eastward, for most blacks.


King

That's right. In fact, the plight is quite confusing out there now as to where blacks are going. But as we go back, there had always been a major desire then for the blacks to move to the Westside, the Westside being—the homes were a little bit newer, and the area was a little more desirable. I don't remember too much about the crime rate, but it was always my perception that there


92
was less crime on the Westside than there was over on the Eastside.


Tyler

I'm going to ask you something about that crime question, but kind of go back a little bit. Why was there this focus on investing in L.A.? Why not Detroit where Jimmy Nelson was? Why not Chicago? How did that happen that L.A. became the best choice or the choice to invest in? Were you aware of—


King

The reason I think, was, first of all, there was a job out here that had to be done. My uncle had this hotel on his hands, and he needed someone to assist him that he could trust.


Tyler

But I mean, why didn't he buy a hotel or major property in Detroit or Chicago? Do you see what I'm saying, sort of the decision even prior to, I mean, just even focusing upon that major investment?


King

Okay. My uncle was a very small guy (he was really my granduncle), very small guy. He had worked on the railroad, and he was so small until he could not carry the grips that people were [carrying] there. He just couldn't handle them. I think I may have mentioned this to you at one time. He was always very personable and always very businesslike. So what they did was they transferred him in effect from the Pullman car to the dining car, and then they always gave him the tables to work that were closest


93
to the galley, closest to the kitchen, because he had a hard time managing those. Well, he had gone to Detroit and got involved with what today we call the lottery, what in those days we called numbers business. Because of the fact that he had been very frugal, very frugal with his dollars—Pardon me, I'm dropping—


Tyler

Okay, this will be over shortly, this one side.


King

Okay, I think it's warm in here.

He decided that when he was going to get out of it, that he was going to get completely out. And it was his desire just to completely separate himself from all of his past and come to a new area and live. Now, his brother had gone to Tucson, Arizona, and that was Harry Nelson, who is still alive today.


Tyler

With the same sort of perspective, to get away? Was he part of the numbers?


King

No, he was not, but he was part of our trend going West. He came out because of the climate. He wanted to be, and maybe for some minor health implications, he wanted to be in the West where it was much warmer, and that's the reason why he chose Tucson to live. Tucson, of course, was certainly in a dry place, and it was a nice place to live. I had made it to Tucson, because since my uncle there, Uncle Harry, worked for the railroad, we were very railroad conscious. So we had made that trip too, when I


94
was a kid. I think it was my uncle simply wanted to do a change of situation completely, and he was delighted to find this business economic opportunity.


Tyler

Did Sadie play a role in giving him a focus of where he might go, because of her and your enthusiasm about L.A.?


King

Yes, she had something to do with it, because she was the matriarch of the family. Whenever she spoke, well, everyone knew that they were to listen. We just had a great family respect, and she thought highly of California and took the position that the family should consider coming to California. That, along with the rather unexpected opportunity to be able to put the economic-development sort of plan into play, was what he wanted to do. It was a rather fortuitous kind of a situation that occurred, because he just simply happened to be sitting in the lobby when one of the persons who was acting as an agent for the mortgage holder came in, and one thing led to another.


Tyler

For the Dunbar?


King

For the Dunbar.


Tyler

I was going to get to that. How did that connection take place?


King

He was here visiting.


Tyler

Right. That's what I'm saying.



95
King

Sitting in the lobby. The gentleman who had originally put the hotel together, because of adverse circumstances all across this country—


Tyler

That's [J.] Alexander Somerville.


King

Somerville. He was unable to keep the property. He was quite a visionary in terms of what he wanted to do, and he had lost control of the property.


Tyler

I think he had to sell it in '29, or '30, I mean. He lost it right after the Depression, right away. Who was holding it then when Jimmy bought it? Was it still in black hands? You said a Chinese had bought it, or what?


King

No, it was not in black hands. The mortgage company was handling it.


Tyler

Do you recall what mortgage company?


King

Don't have the slightest idea.


Tyler

And so did Jimmy pay cash for it?


King

Yeah, $87,500 in 1936.


Tyler

So he had amassed quite a bit of a fortune there.


King

All of my family are workaholics. You have no choice if you grow up in this family. We train: I was trained that way, my dad was trained that way, and everyone in the family has always been trained to work.


Tyler

Did he buy the other properties outright?


King

I don't really recall the story on the other properties that he bought. Basically, it was two pieces of


96
property that he bought: two small apartment buildings that were located next door to each [other], and by the standards in those days, they were not small apartments.


Tyler

Now, do you recall what would probably be his total sum of money that he brought with him, cash?


King

I never did know.



97

Tape Number: III, Side Two
April 13, 1985

Tyler

Now, what were you saying? Go ahead, take off where you said when you hit town.


King

When we came to Los Angeles, my family had almost total social acceptance. We came with my uncle being prestigious in terms of the economic approach. My uncle was certainly not a recluse, but he was not an over-projecting-type person. So when he came into Los Angeles, there was a little bit of mystique that stayed around him, in fact, for years. And it meant that people wanted to be around him, and since he had gotten here and had the largest property here in L.A. in the black community, it meant that people were desirous of meeting him. And he didn't go to that many social activities, because the center point of almost all black Los Angeles was the hotel. [For] every major black in America during those years that came to Los Angeles, and they pretty well all did, that was the place that you had to go.


Tyler

What were the years that he held that, from what years?


King

Nineteen thirty-six when he purchased it, until his death, which was 1953. However, the most significant years started about the time that he purchased the hotel, through about 1946, maybe '48. And then, of course, there was the


98
increase in the number of other facilities that were available, and that area became the most attractive part of black Los Angeles. All of the major entertainment spots were there; the clubs that were smaller clubs were around there.


Tyler

They all moved to get next to the hotel?


King

Right.


Tyler

Like Club Alabam, the Downbeat, the Last Word.


King

And the Memo. They were all within a block of—


Tyler

Tina's Chile Parlor, Jack's Chicken in a Basket.


King

Everything was reasonably close to the hotel, because this is where people came from out of town. You got to remember now, back in those days, you could not go to the Biltmore [Hotel]; there was only one place in downtown Los Angeles where you could eat in terms of a restaurant, and that was Clifton's Restaurant. You could not go to, say, South Gate. And South Gate meant a different thing at that time than it does today. We all knew, for instance, when you said South Gate, that was the area where the south gate was, going into the Cudahy ranch that had been established by the Cudahy people, who were heavily involved in the meat business at the stockyards in Chicago. So there were certain identifying points that we bumped into out here that we can link back to where we came from. Cudahy was a big operation, the stockyards, none of


99
us lived too far from the stockyards. We were beyond the odor area, but everybody knew what the stockyards were in Chicago.

So we got here, we had the church acceptance, because we had initially come out, at least my mother and I had initially come out with the church group. My dad was involved with the people who were financially affluent, and, basically, we just walked into a social set right at its top level, so we had no social adjustment to make. My mother always dressed very attractively. She was a person who was gregarious and was involved with clubs and other kinds of activities; she joined the right clubs reasonably quickly. It was smooth as silk as far as moving into a new area. I had no problem in terms of adjusting. The young men that were in the area were the finest of the blacks that you could find in L.A. Maybe others might dispute some parts of that, but a couple of our neighbors down the street were the Houston boys [Norman B. and Ivan J.], within a block.


Tyler

Founded Golden State Mutual Life [Insurance Company].


King

Right. Not too far away were the Nickersons; the Nickerson father [William, Jr.] was the actual founder, and the cofounders were like the Houstons. [Norman O. Houston, the father of Norman B. and Ivan, was cofounder of Golden


100
State Mutual Life Insurance Company—Ed.]


Tyler

I lived in Nickerson Gardens. [laughter] After William Nickerson [Jr.].


King

Yeah, well, William Nickerson [Jr.] would crawl out of his grave if he ever knew that Nickerson Gardens would have gotten to the point where it is now. But the focal point of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company was within a block of the hotel.


Tyler

That's when it was on Central.


King

They were on Central Avenue. They still own that property and use it as one of their outreach offices now. So that was the place to be. All of the major bands—and at that time black bands could not stop at anyplace except basically the black hotels—the Count Basie band, the Duke Ellington band, Erskine Hawkins, Jimmie Lunceford, and—


Tyler

They came to the Dunbar?


King

They all stayed there.


Tyler

Now, that's where they stayed, and they would play at the—


King

They would play basically in white establishments. Many of the places where they played, blacks could not even go there. They used to play in places in Culver City; and on Vermont near Third Street, there was a large place that was there. They also on occasion would do some one-nighters at the Elks [Club] Hall, which was one of the


101
largest buildings in town, and it was a sort of a main attraction. It was built only a few blocks from the hotel.


Tyler

That was black owned?


King

Black owned completely, and it is still black owned. The Muslims bought it from the Elks at a later date, but it still was black owned until it was torn down recently. So you had these social activities that were all around the hub. Now, you had the white entertainers that used to come over, the Bing Crosbys, and that whole set along that particular time. This was the place that they came.


Tyler

Could you name some of the whites that would come down and patronize the hotel?


King

[James] Cagney, George Raft, Clark Gable. You just go through that whole list—the Barrymores—they were over there. It was the place to go, it was the area to be in. It was in effect like the West Coast Harlem. It was not nearly as integrated as, say, San Francisco was at that time, where there were bars you could go to in San Francisco. Basically, in Los Angeles, that was the strip, that was the black strip.

My interest in aviation was fueled even further, and the person who taught me to fly was Jimmie Lunceford.


Tyler

He had his own plane?


King

Jimmie Lunceford had his own plane; he was one of


102
the only blacks that handled his own booking. Basically, all of those operations belonged to some eastern outfit, and they would book him around the country. But Jimmie Lunceford was the guy who maintained his independence.


Tyler

Why was that?


King

He was a very gutty type guy. He did not want to be owned; he did not want his band to be owned. He wanted to do it as an entrepreneur, and if he made it, he made it, he was going to make the money; and if he wasn't, well, fine, he wasn't going to do it and run it on a salary or a percentage. Most of the other bands were controlled by booking agents. He dealt with a few booking agents on the one-nighters kind of thing. But that was one reason why the flying was very important to him, because when after— They used to call them gigs: we had a gig here and a gig there, meaning those were one-night stands and those kinds of things. They would travel in buses, occasionally on trains, but mostly on buses because they'd make these long runs. Well, everybody wanted to get to the West Coast in the winter, because it was warm out here and freezing in the East.


Tyler

And travel was more difficult than pleasant.


King

Right, so this was the place that everybody wanted to get to. Every winter you'd see the big bands, the big black bands showing up. It was hard to get reservations at


103
the Dunbar.


Tyler

Stayed packed!


King

They stayed sold out.


Tyler

So, it was a financial success, overwhelming.


King

It was a financial success. Jimmy Nelson was a good businessman, and he ran it hands on. All of the major entertainers, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday—I'm trying to think of some of the female vocalists.


Tyler

Ivie Anderson.


King

Who's that?


Tyler

Ivie Anderson.


King

Ivie stayed there, and Ivie opened up a chicken shack only a few blocks from there on Vernon. It was called Ivie's Chicken Shack; it was there for twenty years.


Tyler

When did she open it?


King

In the forties, in the early forties she opened up the Chicken Shack.


Tyler

Now, Jimmy [Nelson] and your father managed the place?


King

My dad stayed there from '37 when he came to town until about 1940, and then he went into business himself. He opened up a liquor store, and then shortly thereafter he ended up with two liquor stores. And then, of course, when the war came along, you didn't need two liquor stores, because you couldn't get enough beer to sell, you couldn't


104
get enough of the liquor to sell, so he went back to one store. He was very successful at it, but there again, it was that work ethic that was there.


Tyler

Now, this patronizing of the Dunbar by black and white celebrities, how did that impact upon Jimmy and your father and you personally, and on other family members? Was there any sort of payoff or rewards? Of course, the focus of the status groups coming in. How did that impact?


King

It had a very significant impact, because you got to remember there was not a lot of movement of blacks back and forth across the country at that time. And we found ourselves in a position knowing the major people throughout this country. Even the major professors, and it's kind of difficult to pull off some of these names, but people who would come out to deliver a paper, they would stop at the hotel, and you would become aware that so-and-so from some group has come out. The principal people that were involved in NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and those activities, the principal ministers from the various ministerial alliances, would come out. So it really put us in a position where we knew the sort of shakers and movers of black America.


Tyler

Do you remember any particular context from that that was acted upon, or some benefit or reward that came from it?



105
King

Oh, I guess I can think of many of them, but one of them that was very significant was Lena Horne, for instance. Lena was a youngster at that time, and she was on the rise, and Lena and I met each other, knew each other well (she knew my whole family well), and later on when I was down at Tuskegee, she came through to do what I guess we could call a USO-type show, and when she arrived there, the first thing that she did was to ask for me, and the colonel who was running Tuskegee, even though I was just one of several hundred cadets that were running around—


Tyler

Was that Benjamin O. [Davis, Jr.]?


King

No. B.O. was not in the training portion of it. He was one of the cadets that first went through, and then he became the commanding officer of the 99th [Fighter Squadron], and then later the 332nd [Fighter Group]. But anyway— I'm having some difficulty remembering the colonel's name, I think it was Shelby, no, no, it was Parrish. Colonel [Noel F.] Parrish was running Tuskegee at that point, and it was a big thing then—Lena Horne was coming down to Tuskegee—the morale and the motivation and all those things. As soon as she arrived on the base, she asked for me, and he says, "Yes, I'll get him for you." Well, it just so happened that day I was up flying— And I don't know if we're changing tracks too much?


Tyler

No, no.



106
King

We're going now into the service situation, one of the impacts, but anyway I was flying. I was in basic training at that point; I was flying solo. There was a fellow by the name of Allen Robinson, who had lived here in Los Angeles; his mother was a doctor, and Allen was the chief tower officer. So the word got out, "Find Celes King immediately. Colonel Parrish is looking for him." Well, Colonel Parrish didn't know me from all those cadets; I guess we're kind of modular. But all of a sudden it was important. [It turned out] he'd found out that I was up flying. He came down to what's called the apron, came down to the flight line and told Allen Robinson to call me in. Allen got me on the radio in the plane, and he said, "The colonel is down here, and he wants you to come in immediately." Of course, you know, I said, "What in the world? Is my flying career over?"


Tyler

You were worried to death.


King

I said, "For goodness sakes, what in the world could I have done?" I thought it out and I said, "I haven't done anything," so I guess all this flashed through my mind in not more than ten seconds, and then I said, "Allen, what's happening?" The weather was fine, we had been called in from time to time on those situations. He said, "Lena Horne is here, and Colonel Parrish wants you to come in immediately." I whipped my airplane around and started


107
heading back. And then at that point I began to realize that I was slightly in demand, so instead of heading straight back, I went out and killed off a few minutes, because it was about time they called all the planes in. So I decided I was going to be the last one to land, and I swung around the pattern several times, and finally I came in and I landed. And at this point I was what you might call one of the sort of hot pilots as a cadet. And it was a rule down there that you should make three-point landings. And that was before they had the tricycle gear for almost all the airplanes. Now you land in a flat position, but years ago, you used to land in a three-point position. And we were told, basically, don't make wheel landings, but the wheel landings were spectacular. You come in, and you hit on those two [front] wheels, and instead of pulling your stick back, you know, and going all the way down into a three-point landing, you keep moving your stick forward, because you keep the tail of the aircraft up, so you're moving across on two wheels. Very spectacular kind of landing, but against all the rules for the cadets. Anyway, I landed, and I did this two-point landing instead of three-point, and went all the way down the runway, and finally— I did a good job on it. It was really spectacular, and there must have been five thousand people standing down there. [laughter]



108
Tyler

You're the hotshot, huh? [laughter] Lena Horne called you.


King

Then I pulled in, and instead of parking where they had me designated to park, I saw all those people, so I went all the way down to the last plane, and I pulled in there and parked. And then I sat in it, and I was revving up the engines and just sat there and finally I roared, turned off the ignition, fine, and the colonel, who had never spoken to me, not one utterance all the time that I'd been down at Tuskegee, acted like he knew me very well, this, that and the other, and oh, my god. Anyway, Lena Horne came up, she got inside of my airplane, and I stood on the side, and we took pictures. That picture has become a classic picture in the annals of black aviation. She's sitting inside, and I'm on the outside.


Tyler

That's in all the books of the war period, huh?


King

Not only that, it was run in every black publication across the country, they blew up large ones and put them into black USOs [United Service Organizations] all across this country. It had a tremendous impact, and all of a sudden Celes King became a very important cadet, and this one incident was a major trigger towards that particular point. I had gotten down to Tuskegee and attended the Tuskegee Institute, where Dr. [Frederick] Patterson at that time was the president of Tuskegee Institute, and he later


109
became president of the [National] Negro Business League, which of course was founded by Booker T. Washington.


Tyler

In 1905.


King

They're claiming 1900.


Tyler

Oh, yeah, in 1900. It's being reorganized; you went to a meeting last week.


King

But that had a major impact on my air force career. That night there was an activity at the officers club, and I was the only cadet that they let into the officers club. In fact, I don't know that any cadet had ever been in the officers club. And they let me in because Lena Horne wanted me to be with her party, and I joined the entourage, and all of a sudden, hey, I was sitting somewhere near cloud eight, on the way to cloud nine. That was one of the situations that occurred.


Tyler

So that gave you marked and preferential treatment thereafter, to a certain degree? You certainly had a higher status, and you stood out above the crowd or whatever.


King

Oh, yes, clearly, and then all the other things that I had been doing right, all of a sudden, they began to be noticed. We were down there, and you got to remember, you know, most blacks certainly didn't come from the most affluent areas. They themselves were the best educated blacks probably as a large group in America, they had


110
screened so many people out. We just happened to end up that way. There were only two cadets who had their own automobiles, and both of us were from Los Angeles.


Tyler

Oh, you were one of the ones.


King

I had arranged to get my car down there, and I had a red Plymouth convertible that you could see for miles away.


Tyler

What year was it?


King

It was a 1941, and my dad had done well in business, so that, plus me making part of the payments, he had given me an opportunity on the first car; and then one, we bounced along until I ended up with this convertible red Plymouth. So, all of a sudden, all of these things really came into focus. A yearbook was put together down at Tuskegee, and I was a major focal point in connection with the book. The photographer was a fellow by the name of Snead from Detroit, Michigan. All of a sudden, he was taking pictures of me down on the line; go down there and there'd be fifty cadets as pilots down on the line, and he would single me out to take pictures, and send them out to all of the news media across the country. So that one situation was significant. The other was one that the guy who taught me to fly, Jimmie Lunceford sent a letter down to the post commander, because what he wanted to know was whether or not he would be able to fly in to Tuskegee because he wanted to come down and, you know, see Celes


111
King, the kid that he had taught to fly.


Tyler

What year, this is '41?


King

Now, we're in '44 by now. There were very few people who had planes you got to remember. Jimmie Lunceford—


Tyler

Even today, in terms of blacks having their own planes. [laughter]


King

That is correct. You're absolutely correct. [laughter]


Tyler

Even today. I think James Brown had one for a while, didn't he?


King

Quite a few people have leased the planes for business operations, but in those days it wasn't a matter of leasing, it was a matter of ownership. You were the pilot. You didn't have the kind of dollars that you could pay someone to fly as a pilot, you had to do it yourself.


Tyler

Now, how did Jimmie Lunceford come about to teach you to fly, pick up on you? Did he teach a lot of other people? How did that occur? How did that get started?


King

I don't think he taught anyone except me. It started because one day— Every day, of course, he would go practice, and—


Tyler

Did he spend a lot of time in L.A.?


King

Yes, he was out here all the time. Frequently, he'd come out to L.A., and he liked to stay out as long as he


112
could; he liked Los Angeles. The airport was right on Central Avenue.


Tyler

They had an airport on Central Avenue?


King

It was the Central Avenue Airport.


Tyler

I've never heard anyone say that. Really?


King

Very few people know that.


Tyler

Where? Central Avenue and where, what street?


King

Maybe 140th [Street]


Tyler

Oh, okay. Is that the Compton?


King

No, the Compton Airport was a different airport. Central Avenue Airport, that's where we used to fly out of.


Tyler

I mean, the Compton Airport is at Alondra [Boulevard] and Central and Wilmington [Avenue]; is it between that little strip there?


King

Different airport. This airport was on Central Avenue. Maybe 130th [Street] or something like that. And what happened was he used to want somebody to fly with him, and I was just a kid around there—


Tyler

What are you, about fifteen, sixteen now?


King

Oh, about fifteen. Yeah, maybe fifteen going towards sixteen. And he asked me one day, "Say, kid, would you like to go up with me?" He couldn't find anybody to fly with him. And I said, "And how!" It was a two-seater, and I think it was probably— It was not a Piper Cloud, it wasn't a Taylor. I can't really remember that first one,


113
maybe it was a Taylor. A Taylor craft. Maybe it was a Cessna, I just can't remember, because we used to— So what happened was every day after school I would scramble as fast as I could from Manual Arts [High School] over to the hotel, and he'd be waiting for me. And we'd go out, and we'd go up every day. And he taught me all the basics, all the stall maneuvers, full stalls, partial to the left, to the right, chandelles. We never did any acrobatics, except circles. And we did the basic maneuvers like spins and coming out of spins and this, that and the other. And I can remember the first time we did a spin, how fast I thought that this plane was. You know, a spin you're heading straight towards the ground. And I remember how fast I thought we were heading down. I said, "For God's sake, this is terrible up here." And then after we had done it for twenty, thirty times, I could actually think while the aircraft was moving and anticipate the moves that we had to make. So my mind got to the point where I had to keep up with what was going on. Chandelles and S turns. He carried me through—


Tyler

So he was a good pilot himself?


King

Oh, he was a great pilot.


Tyler

How had he learned?


King

He had learned because he had an interest in it and because he felt that it was necessary for him to do it for


114
booking purposes. He wanted to get on to the next town and do his booking, so that was a part of it.


Tyler

So you were actually a fairly accomplished pilot before you went to Tuskegee.


King

Right.


Tyler

Were you the only one with that kind of experience, that you can recall?


King

There were a few people who had been instructors in a few of the programs. They had a few programs too, not that many, but they had a few programs that were federally funded programs.


Tyler

From the New Deal.


King

Yeah. Mostly around Chicago, and maybe a few in New York, but mostly around Chicago. We had Blackburn, who was a pilot and the guy who ended up going over to Ethiopia—


Tyler

Oh, yeah, the black guy from Harlem who tried to cross the Harlem River and all that, the Flying Eagle. Did you ever meet him?


King

As a kid I saw him.


Tyler

Where, Chicago?


King

Chicago.


Tyler

So that was another influence? What's his name?


King

Well, no, by that time—I'm having difficulty remembering it, but it'll come back to me—that was a long trip for me, because when I'd get on my twenty-six-inch


115
Ranger bicycle, I had a long way to go to get out there. Yeah, I saw all of those people when I was a kid. But I never went up in an airplane, nobody ever carried me up, and I remember it cost about three dollars to go up and make a circle. So I never was able to get up, never was able to get off the ground, but it didn't stop my burning ambition.


Tyler

Did you ever try to get three dollars together to go up?


King

Three dollars was unreachable; it was absolutely unreachable. There was no way for me to get ahold of three dollars. No way, shape, form, fashion. They had people working for a dollar a day, carrying ice all day long. I remember our ice man was a kid a few years older— I remember one day when he said, "I'm not going to work for a dollar a day anymore." So three dollars was almost impossible to get ahold of. But, yes, I was an accomplished pilot, thanks to Jimmie Lunceford. Now, what I did when I went into the air force, I had been forewarned to say that I knew nothing about flying.


Tyler

Why?


King

Because the air force wants to teach you their way, and if you tell them that you know something about flying, you are pretty well dead, you can wrap up. They wanted to teach you from scratch their particular way of flying. At


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that time it was the army-air force. Later, it became, you know, an independent—


Tyler

Yeah, separate branches.


King

In addition to that, I went over to night school at USC [University of Southern California]. I took aerodynamics. I took navigation.


Tyler

Now, this is before the Tuskegee connection.


King

Before I went to Tuskegee.


Tyler

This is the late thirties?


King

We're in now the latter part of '42, the first part of '43. I went over to— Just like there's the UCLA extension, USC had a USC extension. The price was heavy back in those days. I think sixteen dollars a unit in those days, and that was a hard amount of money to get ahold of. But they did have these night courses, and I took all the night courses. When I went into the air force, and they asked me, I told them I had no prior experience whatsoever, knew nothing about flying, except that I had the desire to learn their system, and that was what they wanted. There were a few people who went in and said they had prior flying experience, and they never saw graduation.


Tyler

Really?


King

Only people that they let get away with it were the people who had been prior instructors.



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Tyler

So that was just a matter of policy.


King

Well, they felt that they had to really teach you how—first of all, everything that you had learned—how to get into some new modes, but if you only learned the air force way, you don't know any other way. And that's what the air force was interested in. They wanted to take the person and teach you their approach to it, and it was a hard-line approach. They were not playing games up there; it was serious. Most of the people who had prior experience— But by being forewarned, it put me in a position to say that I did not know anything. That's one reason why I went through that entire flying school operation and never had as much as one day of trouble, never flunked one flying examination all the way through. And even when I was— It's divided into several sections as far as the flying part. We had the primary, which was the basic situation; well, it's the basic part of flying. Then you have a section that's called basic training, and then you have advanced training. When I got to advanced training, I was really way out in front. I was the first person to solo in advanced training, but this was because I started out way in front of everyone, so it was very helpful.

When you asked me what kind of an impact that hotel [had on me], that business environment, that entertainment environment, the black lawyers who used to show up, the


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doctors—everybody showed up at that place.


Tyler

Now, were there other things, like say, recommendations that came from those connections, in other aspects of your life, or connections that you made at the Dunbar that showed up elsewhere that were important?


King

The fact that everyplace that I was during the war, I generally knew someone when other people did not. We would fly into New Jersey, and I would know someone in Newark. We would go into New York City, and I would know people in New York City. Everyplace that we would go, unless it was someone who had come from that particular area, I was one of the few people who knew folks all over the country.


Tyler

Also now, what other prominent black entertainers sung to the soldiers in the USO-type setting; did that occur again?


King

Yes, I knew almost every one of them, and they knew that I was there. Speaking of the air force, because my uncle had put a huge picture of me in the lobby, standing on the wing of the plane, that meant that everyone who came through, you couldn't check in without seeing this huge photo of me. And it was still very novel, you know, to have black pilots.


Tyler

It still is today.


King

I guess it is. [laughter] It might be more novel


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today than it was then. We may have a lot less running around here than we think.


Tyler

Do you remember the incident with Jesse Jackson bringing the guy back? He tried to make it and flunked out, so he was a bombadier. I don't, I'm not aware of any proliferation of black pilots, still. I mean it's still a very elitist situation today. I don't think we even had very many helicopter pilots in Vietnam, black helicopters, you know, the combat helicopters.


King

Very few. In fact it's the black women; my understanding is that there are only two. There may be more, but if any of them graduated, they would have graduated in the last six months. There were only two black women helicopter pilots. Of course, there were no black women pilots in World War II. There were women pilots, but none black. They used to ferry the planes in.


Tyler

Well, let me see, where are we here on the tape? It's got maybe five or ten more minutes. Well, now to sort of go back a little bit. When you came into L.A., you came in at the top. Now, in contrast to Chicago, were you aware, was that a big leap up in status and contact? How would that fit into your status in connections in Chicago? Were you tied into the black elite in Chicago, or not?


King

No, we really were not tied into the black elite in Chicago. Back in those Depression days, the question of


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being in the elite arena somewhat just almost disappeared. It was survival in those days. It was a matter of getting any job that you could. Again, I mentioned that in the post office you had M.D.'s and lawyers who could not make a living outside. So a lot of elitism from those days was based solely upon an ability to get hold of a dollar, to be able to have an automobile and keep some gas in it.


Tyler

Hasn't changed too much since then. [laughter] No, that's not true.


King

Well, you have now people who have paid a price and have gone through educational situations that have rewards that come solely as a result of spending the time and investing it in their personal development. In those days, even though you had used the time in personal development, there was no assurance that you'd be able to get a job.


Tyler

Terribly frustrating.


King

Yes. The teachers, of course, teachers and a few nurses at a few of the key hospitals that were basically county hospitals, they were able to get a check every payday. But I don't ever remember much about any high level of elitism in Chicago. The activities were around the religious end, the church: going to church on Sundays, having clean clothes when you would go to church, and a lot of the activities that the black church was able to represent a base. There were known people back in those


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days, but to a large extent not big, elitist-type situations. The big things were still right in the community that were occurring. But, no, I don't recall any major social activities that we were really involved in until we came to California.


Tyler

So this was a very dramatic and successful step coming to L.A.


King

Oh, yeah, a major step up, major step up. I think we would have gone up the ladder as the society changed, but, you know, with upward mobility here—


Tyler

And as the economy too, went up. But this was a master stroke, a personal master stroke even before the economy was, you know, got out of the Depression, because the war brought it out.


King

It was a major difference, and it was a place that we all liked, too, so it was easy to make the moves. When you had been suffering through those difficult winters in Chicago with the wind commonly referred to as the hawk.


Tyler

It was pecking on you.


King

And, of course, got out here— And there's no such thing as outdoor swimming pools; there was only one that I can recall.


Tyler

You mean in Chicago there are no outdoor swimming pools?



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Tape Number: IV, Side One
April 27, 1985

Tyler

We had talked about several major positive aspects of when you moved to, or your family came to L.A. and [bought] the Dunbar Hotel, that you moved up to the top in terms of the social circles. You talked about two very positive events that grew out of that: learning how to fly an airplane, and also meeting Lena Horne, and how that impacted you. Were there other positive things that occurred that you might want to talk about as a result?


King

Well, I think first of all, when I got here the entire environment was positive. Having come out of the real hard Depression in Chicago, living on the South Side certainly would not be in any way looked upon as the best of a background. Coming out of a place where we had hard winters and jobs were very few, and at a time when just the very basic necessities were extremely difficult to come by, to step from there into a place where you could walk around during the winter without having to have the burden of the weather as a factor— You could begin to use your ideas and your thoughts toward things other than, "Am I going to end up with my toes frozen off by the time I walk home?" Also, in coming to California, because of the fact that I had spent some time as a kid around the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] in Chicago, I was immediately


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attracted to look for the YMCA here. At that time I went down to Twenty-eighth Street, Twenty-eighth and Paloma [Street], that's very close to Central Avenue. The YMCA here represented an entirely different type of environment from, say, the South Side Boys Club and the YMCA in Chicago, and that was where I spent a good deal of my time. First of all, I could get on my bicycle and very easily make it down to Twenty-eighth Street, where in Chicago I had to ride an elevator in order to get to the YMCA.


Tyler

Was that an elevator railroad car?


King

Yes, the elevated streetcar, you might call it, which was excellent transportation, and still is as far as mass transportation in Chicago.


Tyler

Was this Twenty-eighth and Central, the YMCA?


King

The YMCA was basically at Twenty-eighth and Central, one block from Central. And there, the funny thing about that, you may find when you get into a community that there are certain enclaves within that community that will present an excellent opportunity, and you find positive kind of thoughts, people who are attempting to improve their situation, and that's what I found when I got out here. So what I did was, and I didn't realize it that much when I was a kid, but I actually programmed myself so that I would be away from the elements that may lead down some


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sort of a disastrous track or into the juvenile [delinquency] system.

The YMCA at that particular time had controlled activities; we used to, of course, go swimming, play basketball—this was after school. I was able to run in, spend a short period of time down at the Y each day (generally it was about an hour) and that was it. I didn't ever really stay around the playgrounds or other kinds of things, so I wasn't really around. I left the school environment and went to a programmed YMCA environment. The people at the Y, of course, had their annual fund-raising event, which was designed to sustain the Y. Well, I was one of the youngsters, and we were all given a piece of the turf. I remember mine was to work from down by the old Lincoln Theatre, which, by the way, was a major theater in this town. It's been years, of course, since anybody's even mentioned the Lincoln Theatre; but that was Twenty-fourth [Street], Twenty-fifth Street and Central, and it was up to me to tag base and go in and ask each of the merchants for a contribution to the local YMCA. Well, I learned quite a bit from that, and I didn't even realize that I was learning it. But I found that, by and large, that the business community, if requested, would respond, and I'm talking about donations that were five dollars, ten dollars; I'm not talking about the major contributions.


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But if no one walked in there, the likelihood is they wouldn't make that contribution. Now, you got to remember now, you're talking about ten dollars back in those days; that ten dollars would probably be the equivalent of a fifty-dollar donation by, say, a merchant today. You got a lot for the buck back in those days. But I went to doctors' offices, and I made appointments, and I went back, and I was always very proud.


Tyler

Black and white merchants?


King

Black and white merchants. Most of the professionals, oh, I'd say maybe half of the professionals were black. There were black M.D.'s, black dentists, there were small entrepreneurs that were on Central Avenue and on Avalon [Boulevard]. I sometimes even ventured out of my territory and went out— Well, it taught me two things: one, that you should, if you are a business person in the community, that you should make contributions towards perpetuating that community; that you should, you know, look to see what can be done for the younger people that are in that area; and you should likewise even participate in some of those activities. Those kinds of things, in addition to the fact that both my mother [Leontyne Butler King] and father [Celestus A. King, Jr.] participated in community events, represented a piece of my background that I have never been able to really make any changes on. I


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mean, it fell into place at an early point, and I knew that this was to be done. I knew that every year that there would be this fund-raising activity, and it meant that you went out and walked the streets in order to do it. And, of course, because of the fact that I knew so many people. Like there were around my great-uncle, Jimmy [James] Nelson, who had the hotel, and Mr. Lomax, who was a cousin of his. That was Lucius Lomax [Sr.], who was probably the most wealthy black in Los Angeles at that time.


Tyler

That's not the Louis [E.] Lomax guy?


King

No, that's not Louis Lomax, they are completely different. You're talking about Louis Lomax, the journalist and TV commentator. So I would say that just coming to Los Angeles made major, major changes. When I was a kid in Chicago, very, very seldom did I go to the downtown area; here, the downtown area seemed much more accessible and very simple to get to. It was not the long ride that it was in Chicago. Going to the downtown here was entirely different from the downtown in Chicago, because here you didn't have the huge, large buildings. Everything was very much like small-townish at that particular time, so merely coming here had a major impact. People had green lawns all year round, trees were beautiful, and, of course, at that time, there was no talk about smog and those other things, even though I've learned


127
to live with that quite easily. The people out here were very nice, and, of course, you saw them more because they were out on their fronts watering their lawns, and everybody had much more of a pride of ownership in the little homes that they owned. They were not that particularly pretentious, but they did belong; there was a very, very high level of home ownership, and it was a very good, great community. Best thing that ever occurred to me was my family moving from Chicago to Los Angeles.


Tyler

You mentioned the YMCA in Chicago, that you spent a great deal of time there. It was something we didn't talk about, or it didn't come up before. Did that play a big role in keeping you out of trouble in Chicago, and were you aware of it then, or did your parents get you involved? How did you get involved?


King

Well, I always liked to swim, and I liked to play Ping-Pong. Ping-Pong was one of my real things that I really enjoyed, and there were no Ping-Pong tables anyplace when I grew up in Chicago, except the South Side Boys Club and the YMCA. So that was good. And, of course, before and after swimming, Ping-Pong was always one of the major things that the kids did. Of course, a lot of them played checkers and chess and those kinds of things, so it was a good environment. I rather suspect, now that I look back, that it was probably my dad who steered me in the direction


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of the YMCA. It also provided an opportunity in the summer, because they had an excellent summer program up at Dowagiac, Michigan, and it meant that I was able to spend part of my time in the summer completely away from the asphalt that was all around us in the South Side of Chicago. Yes, it did have a major impact on using my time. I'm not too certain that I would have gotten in any large amount of trouble, anyway, but it certainly did tend to help. When I came out here, I know that I didn't need anyone to tell me that the YMCA was the place to go. And to this day I still feel a real warm spot in my heart for the YMCA.


Tyler

I recall that Richard Wright in his—was it Black Boy, or was it Native Son, or some of his other writings from actual experiences?—was saying that a lot of gangs in Chicago actually were by the lake during the forties, clustering around the Boys Club, dealing drugs and everything else, which it was supposed to keep them away from. Did you experience any of that?


King

Not a lot. They probably got, oh, a good deal of attention because of the fact that the YMCA and the South Side Boys Club were clearly identifiable, but they laundered their activities mostly elsewhere, as I saw it. Different people may have different perspectives, but my view is that, yes, it was a situation where whatever


129
happened there would gain a tremendous amount of [attention] vis-a-vis, say, Thirty-ninth [Street], and South Park [Way], which is a kind of nondescript area which was not too far from there, or Thirty-ninth [Street] and State [Street] or something like that, which wasn't too far from that. But you actively had adults that were keeping those things at an absolute minimum. [The] big thing back in those days when I came up was almost just somebody having a half a pint of booze or a package of cigarettes. That was a big thing; the situation of drugs was there, but it was very remote and was not a major item. That's the environment that I was in, and I was around the YMCA and the South Side Boys Club for a long time.


Tyler

Did a lot of the Woodlawn kids go too?


King

No, there were not that many from Woodlawn who went that far, because, first of all, I had to walk about ten blocks to get onto the elevator, just to go there. Either that, or I had to ride and do a transfer in connection with it, but I thought it was a great environment, and of all Chicago. I think that the combination of the Woodlawn situation, which really was not too bad, as I look back, and the YMCA just kept me in a track, so that my time was used up. And I just didn't have time for the gang involvement.


Tyler

So you certainly learned to swim there. Was that


130
the first place you learned to swim and other athletic activities?


King

Yes, it came out of the YMCA.


Tyler

So when you jumped off the cliff at the Michigan—


King

I think it was at Fifty-Fifth [Street] and Michigan [Avenue].


Tyler

That still was attributed to your YMCA experience?


King

Right. Let's call it for a second. [tape recorder off]


Tyler

Okay, it's back on. Would you say that your athletic prowess was more developed, or you became more conscious of it as a result of the Boys Club?


King

Yeah, I never had much in terms of real team competitive sports, in terms of a background. When I played basketball, it was just whoever lined up at that particular time; and it was basically that my family always told me that you better learn something, and that swimming is nice, and that bouncing a basketball is nice, and playing football and those kinds of things should be recreation, and that you should not be counting on them.

Of course, back in those days, the opportunities for athletes was not that available, and for those that were professional athletes, the kind of dollars that they made certainly didn't particularly influence folk. Besides that, my mind was always on how to fly a plane, even at


131
that point, and I didn't have a prayer on how I'd ever even be able to get off the ground in an airplane, but I was still thinking airplanes, way, way back at that.


Tyler

And you're still not certain how you got attached to that?


King

No, I really just don't know. I cannot put my finger on a single thing, except that I was just absolutely preoccupied with airplanes. I used to go to Woolworth's, the five-and-ten store, and I couldn't have been more than ten years old, or less than even ten probably, eight or nine, and I used to buy the little aircrafts, and I used to also buy for fifteen, twenty cents the little sets that will allow you to put airplanes together. And I would go home, and I would get down on the floor in my front room, and I would stay down there until I had to go to dinner. And then after dinner, well, you know, my dad insisted that I sit down and do homework. But, hey, the next day, I was right back there, and I used to just fumble around and build these planes, one after another.

I never was particularly that skilled in terms of really building the planes. But I don't think it was really important that you could build one that would possibly be used as part of an exhibit or something. But it was that you had learned what made planes go, you learned little things like the empennage section, the


132
elevator, the rudders, the ailerons. And then as time went along, things like the coefficient of lift, and, you know, what made them go, the thrust, something about the motors. I was always intrigued with this idea that these planes could fly so fast, and, of course, now, those kinds of numbers that they were talking about now in terms of speed, vis-a-vis today, I mean you talk about an airplane going ninety miles an hour. [laughter]


Tyler

That was fast.


King

That was a big thing. And the commercial aircraft like the Ford triplane and those kind of things, I used to try to build those, and, you know, I really had rubber bands around there that were used to turn those props. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I never really had any instructions on it either. I can't ever remember having anyone to give me any instructions on how to build those planes.


Tyler

Did they have reading instructions, or you just started putting them together?


King

They had reading instructions, and that was one of the things that my dad always made me do when I was very small. He wouldn't let me start out on anything. He would make me read the directions, and I'm still into that today. Read before you act, get some information. My dad and I used to sit down, and he'd give me a little time, but


133
not a lot of time, because the planes didn't seem to mean very much to him one way or the other, but he was tolerant of the fact that it was important to me. And he used to come and he would take a quick glance at what I was doing; he'd say something like, well, basically, [he] was kind of nodding his head, as I can think back, never anything that enthusiastic. But the fact that I wanted to do it, and it was keeping me in the front room rather than down on the corner was something that he saw of value. I learned an awful lot about aircraft; it was really almost self-taught. And I always felt I could fly a plane before I ever got in one. Of course, I learned at a later date there was a little bit more to it than I had thought, but I knew all the basics. I knew all the maneuvers; I understood them, knew what they were about. Every time there was an airplane picture or anything like that, well, you know, I would figure out how to get ten cents in order to get into the movie show.


Tyler

Did you save all these planes?


King

Over a period of time those planes kind of all disappeared, including one that I had until very recently, and now it has disappeared.


Tyler

You don't quite know what happened to it?


King

Well, it probably got swept out with the trash; you can't save everything. You have a limited amount of space,


134
and every once in a while you have to go and, you know, clean things up. But I had a great time with those little items; that was my football and basketball and everything else all wound up into one thing. I just simply knew that some day I was going to be a pilot.


Tyler

Did any of your peer-group people ever get involved, or was that sort of real private, the airplane experience?


King

No, the group that I was around—no members of my family, none of the kids that I grew up with. I did not know any pilots, I had never even seen a pilot on a one-to-one basis.


Tyler

I mean, in terms of your peer group, did you say, "Hey, this is great! Why don't you buy you one?" You know, like kids play marbles and do certain things together, and it becomes sort of a group deal?


King

It never became a group situation, and I never did— None of the other kids had much of an interest.


Tyler

So it's something you nursed privately, pretty much.


King

Everybody knew that I was always playing around with airplanes, but nobody had much of a reaction to it one way or the other. But I found it enjoyable then, and I still have that same kind of concern.


Tyler

What were the ultimate benefits of getting involved


135
with the YMCA here, and then the annual fund-raising where you met these business people? What immediate and then later benefits resulted from that experience?


King

You know, it never really was sales that I was into as far as seeing the business people in the community was concerned. But what it did do, it assisted me in understanding that there is a thing out there called a business decorum, that there is a normalcy, that sometimes people will turn you down, and [that] they will turn you down for a whole host of reasons, and still you cannot lose their friendship. I learned as a kid that, hey, I may have to come back to these same people at some future date. But it was my first exposure to small-business people, and I began to develop a very healthy respect for the small-business person. In fact, I came to the conclusion early on that I would rather have my own business and work harder and make less than to have a comfortable job.


Tyler

How did that occur? What experience, what perceptions? Did that grow slowly? Did you see it right away, or was it at a certain age or time period, some event that sparked it?


King

Well, the small-business people seemed to be able to have much more control over what happened to them. They seemed to be able to get out and to go into areas that other people just did not bother to venture into. Yes,


136
there were the institutions in the community, the local newspapers that had major impact; there were the major, oh, half a dozen churches or so that had major impact. I found that, by and large, that there was more respect that seemingly was given to those people that were in the business arena than there were necessarily to the people who maybe made more but had a job that wasn't particularly outstanding in this whole hierarchical approach as to what was tops in the pecking order of a community. So it did not necessarily mean that if you had a business that was not well accepted in the community and a business that did not make money, that you would have that level of respect. You had to be able to, one, make money out of the business, and, two, you had to carry yourself as a business person. And there is a difference between being a business person than there is having a career-type job. Many people, of course, put together the combination of working during part of their hours and being in business, maybe as sales-persons or otherwise; it did have a major impact on their life-style. There were more dollars available to buy little dresses for kids and to buy quality kind of personal consumption items. So I always felt that, hey, if there's going to be a good life out there, we've got to have a thing called freedom, and you really don't have a lot of freedom if you are on a nine-to-five job. What it taught
137
me was that most of these business people had very little regard for nine-to-five, and most of them were more like seven-to-seven than nine-to-five


Tyler

Were there statements that they made, or perceptions? Did anyone ever sort of set you down and explain that to you, or you just were picking it up yourself?


King

Mostly, it was that having grown up with my dad always being in sort of some kind of business. Even though he might pick up a job here and there, he always kept some kind of little business situation going, so it was very normal for me to have admiration for people that were somewhat like my dad; and the most influencing people in my life were clearly my mother and my father. I've always had a very, very healthy respect for both of them, and they deserved it and they earned it, because they were very, very fine people, both of them.


Tyler

Well, certainly too, buying the Dunbar Hotel almost as a family business certainly was the bedrock, I mean, a big one at least, I imagine.


King

That was the whole attitude of our family, and that is that everybody should understand that we have obligations out there to each other, and that even though we have these obligations that that did not mean that everyone should not individually be successful, and it


138
meant that they must go to school, they must get a decent education, and they must be able to venture out.


Tyler

Did your parents drill into you that you should have a perspective of being self-employed? Or Jimmy [Uncle James] Nelson? Or did any particular business person— like, say, along the lines of Jimmie Lunceford actually taking you and showing you how to fly a plane—did any business person take you under their wings somewhat like that and advise you and guide you in any way?


King

Yes, my dad and my uncle [James Nelson], both of them. And the way they did it was basically by example. They didn't take a lot of time to explain it to me; they just showed me by what they did that five o'clock means that some other people get off from work. It didn't have any impact on them whatsoever. At five o'clock they just rolled their sleeves up. It just had nothing to do with it. Dinner meant not sitting around—of course, radio was the big thing at that time—it did not mean that you stop in order to listen to the radio. If you want to listen to the radio, turn the radio on. They never stopped, they just kept on, you know, consistently doing whatever it was that they were into. Also, they taught me another thing, and that is to be able to have a constant stream of interruptions, to deal with those interruptions, and then to go right back where they were on target.



139
Tyler

How did that actually, what experiences—


King

Well, being around the hotel desk, around the lobby. There were projects that they had to complete, and every ten minutes somebody would come up and say hello. They would go and they would break whatever they were doing, go up, exchange whatever the norms were in terms of dealing with that particular situation; whatever the minimum level of expectancy was, [it] was always met in a courteous style, and then back to the drawing board to whatever it was that they were doing. I learned a long time ago that you cannot necessarily control the environment that you're in, but that is not an excuse for not completing the project.


Tyler

You don't let those disruptions cause you to fall to pieces and throw up your hands?


King

That's a part of it. That's part of putting the project together, the interruptions. And today, you know, I will tell the receptionist or the secretary, "Under no circumstances call me. I'm back here, I'm involved. I'm doing something, I have a meeting going on." But still, all that says to them, and they know me well, is that unless it's absolutely urgent, then don't call me, but if it is urgent, definitely call me. So, fine, I can deal with that series of interruptions and never lose my track, just keep on; whatever it happens to require, fine, because


140
you have to deal with these things and get them over, you can't let them fester. You wind up taking a situation that— Oh, I guess I like to say it by saying you take one call, a one-call situation that can deal with the subject, and instead of it being one call, you make it into four calls, because the people keep calling you back and you never get around to dealing with it. So at some point along the line, you can build up such a large number of things that you have to do until you're just not in a position to be able to catch up. Well, you have to understand that if you just keep piling these things up, that even though 90 percent of them may not be critical, that other 10 percent can be essential to your survival, so I learned years ago that you return all phone calls. I don't have time to return all the phone calls, and, of course, you know, we have a method: the receptionist dials the phone, and she says, "Well, Mr. Smith is on the telephone," and we just go through the whole series of calls. I try as much as I can to always return calls, answer correspondence if the correspondence requires an answer. Now we've gotten to the point where you get so many phone calls until you have to sort of sort through them, and I'm not talking about those particular phone calls—the salesmen, of course, use the mails and phones on their marketing approaches, and they are taught to do that,
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so you can't get caught up in other people's agenda—but you have legitimate calls that you have to return.


Tyler

Right. Certainly that experience, as you say, that style and that pattern came out of the hotel there, because when you have customers there, you got to go see what their needs are. Well, coming to L.A., what were some of the first things you did as a child? What school did you go to?


King

Well, first thing was to go into a high school, and I went to Manual Arts High School. That had about thirty-five blacks at the time and over three thousand total number of people that were there. It was the first time that I was really in what to me was a totally noticeable situation of black and white. I really hadn't taken that much of a concern about segregation and integration and those things. [When] I came up, it was the standard and the style of life, and most of our activities were around blacks (the church, of course, which was influential); but here I found myself with a very, very small number of blacks and a large number of very normal, cordial white youngsters, and got along quite well, just because I never had any unnecessary confrontations. We knew where the line was in Chicago. I mean, you didn't go past the railroad tracks at Sixty-ninth Street. Conversely, the whites that were on the other side didn't come over on our turf, and it


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just went without saying. So I had been placed in a situation where it wasn't unusual to know that you could not walk into everyplace and sit down and eat and those kinds of things. And I found a great deal more openness out here than I had found in the Chicago ghetto where I grew up, where it was more of just a black society. So when I came here, it was really my first sort of major introduction to being involved with the white community. I got along quite well; I found virtually no difference, that there were some people that I became friends with.


Tyler

Exchange home visits?


King

Not very much in exchanging home visits. By and large, the whites didn't come that much into the black community, and the blacks didn't go that much into the white community, and, of course, there was a small group of people that were living on what we called the Westside at that time. They lived between Jefferson [Boulevard] and Exposition [Boulevard], and basically between Vermont [Avenue], oh, and Arlington [Avenue], and there was that group; there were a few families that lived north of Jefferson, between Western [Avenue] and maybe Arlington. Of course, back in those days, the restrictive convenant was alive and well, and the problem of being able to purchase individual homes was a major factor. This was long before the Sugar Hill kind of section opened up.


143

By and large, the blacks that were in those areas certainly socially fit at the highest level as far as the Los Angeles black community was concerned. Now, that is not to say that everyone who lived over there was that anxious to be counted among the socially affluent. Most of the blacks that lived over there still made a living in the Central Avenue area if they had a business, or if they did not have a business, then they generally worked elsewhere. They didn't work and live on what we call the Westside of Los Angeles. And again, I think that I had mentioned before that basically what the blacks did was they divided up the area that they functioned in, and then Main Street was used as the difference between the Eastside and the Westside. And what, of course, we call west, you know, living on the Westside did not mean the Westside of Los Angeles, it meant the west side of the ghetto.


Tyler

I mean, we still, blacks use Westside differently than whites do.


King

Absolutely.


Tyler

We use it in terms of the race-division line, and, technically, Westside in the formal sense of the city has a different definition.


King

Right, if you put the map on the wall—


Tyler

Now, the Westside would be west of the freeway there, the Harbor [Freeway]. Main [Street] is on the other


144
side of the Harbor.


King

Oh, I think West Los Angeles would be La Cienega [Boulevard] west, and, of course, the only time we ever saw La Cienega was going by it, going out to Santa Monica to the little inkwell section that we had down at the beach. And that didn't bother me; none of the things that would normally bother a person, all these were a step up to me.


Tyler

So this integrated school where you were a minority was new [to you]; this was something you saw as a plus, a positive?


King

Very much so.


Tyler

Did the other blacks feel that way?


King

The blacks that were there? Yeah, I think that they had a consciousness of the fact that, say, they were not attending Jefferson High School, which was the principal black high school.


Tyler

Now, were you in the Manual Arts district, or did you just give another address to move there?


King

I gave another address, but my uncle, when he did come to Los Angeles, bought two small apartment buildings that were slightly west of Western. And, of course, when I came here, I lived very close to Jefferson High School, and with me it would have been just as normal as apple pie to have gone to Jefferson High, and it would not have disturbed me in the least. But I had the opportunity to go to


145
this other school, and I found that it was easy to get to, because the Vernon car line just ran—it was only four blocks from my house—and it ran right in front of the school. So it wasn't a big problem, logistically, getting there, and I was very pleased at the opportunity of being able to attend Manual Arts.


Tyler

You gave the apartment address that Jimmy Nelson—


King

Yes.


Tyler

Who made that decision? You or your parents? One of your parents?


King

My parents made that decision, but what they did was we got in the automobile and we actually drove and we looked at both schools. It was a little lightweight family project, and I felt like I was a participant in the determination, and I don't think that they felt that they were manipulating me in the process. I think they were simply saying, "Well, look, here's an opportunity for you to go to school there." And because of the fact it was the first school that I had attended in Los Angeles, it meant that this was the first time that I was recording an address, so it was very simple.

I can't ever remember any problems that occurred as a result of using that address. And, in fact, many, many evenings after school, I would stop by over there, because it was family, and just go in and eat a bread and butter


146
sandwich—and they would always welcome me and be glad to see me—and step on out. So it was like a home, in a sense.


Tyler

Now, did you at any time ever feel that there was a loss of social relationships or that you were away from the mainstream of blacks, that you felt deprived or imposed upon at any time?


King

Not at all. Because I used to also, on occasion, go over to Jefferson High School, which was in the area, and go over there sometimes for activities. Sometimes when they would have football games or basketball games, I would go over there. So, no, I never felt that. And I was not the only person that lived in the area that went to schools outside of there. There were not that many, but there were others, so—


Tyler

Out of that thirty-five, were many or most of those giving addresses other than their actual place where they lived?


King

I would say that probably two-thirds of those youngsters in fact lived in the district, but what are you talking about: twenty people, twenty kids out of three thousand plus. So I would think that most of them did in fact—


Tyler

Did the school district wink at that, or they just never questioned it?



147
King

There were so few of us, you know, you're talking about 1 percent of the population. So there were so few. We really did not create problems at all, and of those thirty or so, I guess twenty of them were involved in other kinds of activities at the school. We had a few on the track team, a few on the baseball team, etc. So, by and large, it was an exemplary group of youngsters that were there, very fine group of youngsters. I can't hardly remember any time that there were any blacks that had any real difficulty over there at all.


Tyler

And as a group, did they go on to be high achievers above the norm?


King

Most of them did, most of them did. I would say that—


Tyler

Any outstanding names, like—


King

Outstanding in the sense that they left a lot of name identity behind them, but they were successes as far as people are concerned: Jackie Robinson, for instance, who was the outstanding athlete around here—not the, I guess; he was one of five. Because there was Kenny Washington, and Strode, and—


Tyler

Is that Tommy Strode?


King

[Woodrow] Strode that used to play end at UCLA, and Kenny Washington the football player. So I would say that—



148

Tape Number: IV, Side Two
April 27, 1985

Tyler

Okay, go ahead.


King

I would say on balance. I just can't remember many of those students.


Tyler

They had successful careers, they just weren't—


King

Weren't that noticeable.


Tyler

Like Ralph Bunche, but still [had] distinguished careers.


King

They had a number of alumni over there who have been very successful, but they are not that well known. Some who went on to become principals of schools, and, you know, principals of schools are known quite well in their area, but they're not generally known. I am very pleased to say, though, that so many of them were very successful.


Tyler

Very good. I guess we should wind this up then for our hour today.


King

Hey, that's great, Bruce.



149

Tape Number: V, Side One
May 25, 1985

Tyler

Yeah, well, we had left off talking about your connections with the business community and the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association].


King

Oh, when I was a youngster.


Tyler

Yeah, because in the past you hadn't mentioned that you had a YMCA connection in Chicago. Then you had one here; you talked about you had transferred it over. I think we were pursuing what impact did your peer group have on you in L.A., too. Did you get into a peer-group situation? As you'll recall, we [left] off right away at the Dunbar [Hotel]: what were the benefits? And then the question was raised by me: what were the negatives? And I think you said there weren't really too many negatives you could think of. And so we were going back to when you first came here. What about school? Where did you live? And your peer group.


King

That's right, it's jogging the memory.


Tyler

So right away, did you fall into a peer group? What school did you enroll in?


King

Manual Arts [High School], and I fell into multiple groups.


Tyler

[When] you started you fell into the ninth, tenth grade?



150
King

Tenth grade.


Tyler

It was tenth to the twelfth grade?


King

Yeah. Have you turned it on?


Tyler

Yeah, it's on.


King

Oh, okay. No, I didn't realize that you had already turned it on.

Okay, let's see. My recollection is that I guess I fell into sort of three or four peer groups when I got here. One was the natural situation of the high school that I attended, which had an attendance of about three thousand there and about 1 percent, maybe thirty students there who were a black ethnic minority, and it meant because I was with this group for my entire school day that naturally those relationships would just come to pass. Frankly, I was happy to be in California. I was very happy to see Los Angeles sun in February. I mean, when I thought about the weathers that I had gone through, I mean, everything feels so good to me. Looking at the palm trees, I just made a firm commitment that never in my entire life would I live any place other than Los Angeles. And I guess one of the things that I was always saying is that I will continuously try to help build Los Angeles and make it into a better place for people to live, even though at that time I could not imagine a better place. There were all sorts of problems that I just totally ignored. I was just very,


151
very pleased with the pluses, very pleased with the benefits.

The YMCA transfer situation from Chicago was something that my parents didn't even have to tell me about. I started seeking out that as soon as my foot was firmly planted on the ground. Hey, I just naturally moved in that direction of going to the YMCA, which was probably one of the key things that kept me from being exposed to a lot of the nonsense in the community, because the kids that went to the YMCA basically came out of good families, people that were trying to move their kids along. A number of those kids did do quite well. It's been a long time, and it's hard to identify what most of them are doing now, but I can think back and I can clearly remember that the YMCA had an almost 100 percent perfect record of kids who did not get in any trouble, who were not down at "juvey" [juvenile] hall, who were not having problems, who were doing well in school and who were pushing. They just didn't seem to attract the people that were into other kinds of things.

I also fell in very easily with the neighborhood group. The neighborhood group was made up of some of the finest people that were in the black community: a fellow named Grimes who lived in the next block, who ultimately was appointed by Governor Jerry [Edmund G.] Brown [Jr.] to


152
his cabinet.


Tyler

What's his first name?


King

Grimes, Leonard. Down the street, a block away were the Houston brothers [Norman B. and Ivan J.]. They went on, of course, to be very prominent both in our city, state, and national [governments]. There was Norman Houston, who incidentally preceded me as president of the Los Angeles NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], and who later was appointed in Washington as a deputy secretary in HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development], and who then later became an independent consultant in Washington for many years, and recently has returned to Los Angeles. He is the chairman— I withdraw chairman—the director of a community organization called the Black Agenda [Inc.]. It's made up of a large cross section of our community. In addition, there was Ivan— Oh, by the way, Norman attended your school; he attended UCLA, and he played football there. I think he played center or something like that years ago. Ivan, his brother, went on to become very involved in the Golden State [Mutual] Life Insurance Company and today is the president of that organization. He is a man of impeccable character. He has raised his family, and he's made many, many contributions, just like Norman, to this community.


153

There were young folks like Bert [Gilbert C.] Kenner, who went on to gain some acknowledgment in our community as a business person and later established his own independent firm that does appraisals. There were people like [John] Lamar Hill, who did not live in that immediate area, but was a part of a rather, part of the more elitist structure. There was Horace Clark (his father owned the Clark Hotel), and Horace was over at USC [University of Southern California]; that's where he finished school. And just in general there were so many people who have done a very good job. There was Elbert [T.] Hudson, who has gone on to become the very distinguished president of Broadway Federal Savings [and Loan Association]. He and his family are institutions in our community and have always made major contributions. Incidentally, El Hudson and I came through the Tuskegee [Institute] experience.


Tyler

He was a flyer?


King

He was a pilot.


Tyler

Did you know him then?


King

Oh, of course! We came from Los Angeles. And they, you know, were about the community. You have people like Leroy Beavers, who went on to establish probably one of the largest insurance agencies (he was a major factor with Equitable Life [Assurance Society of the United States]), who has been extremely successful. You had some of, almost


154
a composite of people who have gone on and who certainly have left their mark. You had people like Cris [Crispus A.] Wright, who has gone on to become a Beverly Hills lawyer, plus [the] major business and property interests that he has. We have ever so many people that we can just fall back on and remember that came up in this little pocket of a black community here in Los Angeles. Many have made major contributions. Tom [Thomas] Bradley, for instance, was a local young man who lived near Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles, and he too went to UCLA. And, of course, I guess that probably the most prominent people at that particular point as it moved along was, out of Los Angeles, was Kenny Washington and Woody [Woodrow] Strode, along with Jackie Robinson out of Pasadena, who made up a big piece of the football team at UCLA. It was a great Los Angeles black community, and it has gone on to become even greater and more impressive.


Tyler

Did you associate with them quite frequently?


King

Well, the answer is yes, because of the fact that there were so many boundaries around the community [that] the situation of whether or not you were going to see these other people and interact with them, well, it was almost a foregone conclusion that you would be. And I didn't mean that, by any means, that it was like a school contact, where you saw the same people every day, but the activities


155
in the community did lead to those kind of things.


Tyler

Now, what was significant about those relationships? What happened at the time? Were [there] any dramatic incidents, or value systems? Attitudes or goals that were obvious and you were aware of? Did you feel you were special, or anything?


King

Well, I just knew that I was going to be a success. I mean, it never even occurred to me that I was not going to be a success. I was around two real success models, both my mother [Leontyne Butler King] and my father [Celestus A. King, Jr.], and it never occurred to me of being any less than having a very successful and rewarding and a fruitbearing-type life. I mean, I knew pretty well that I was going to have a family. I knew that I would be in business of some sort. I knew that I would ultimately complete my education, whatever I had to do in order to do it. I knew that I was going to be a community activist. I knew that I would have something to do with the destiny of this community. It was just clear to me at all times. It was a foregone conclusion, I never even gave it a second thought.


Tyler

Would you say that was true of your peer group?


King

Well, I think so. I think if you would ask Norman Houston or Ivan Houston or Leonard Grimes or Bert Kenner or John Lamar Hill if they were going to be successful, I


156
don't think there would have been any question in their minds. We knew that, basically, if you did the right thing in the right way, and there were basic sorts of limits as to what you would do, and if you used your time reasonably well, and if your family put certain kinds of restraints on you, that you just wouldn't have the time to get into problems and to get into trouble. And so that meant that you kept on track. And my parents intended for me to be a success at all times, too. It was no doubt in their mind; they said that I was going to have a better life than they did. The reality is I have not had a better life than they have had. I have had an equal life, but they had a very good life themselves. But it was rewarding only because of the fact that they had a balance to their time, but it was skewed in the direction of work. They had balanced social activities, they had balanced educational activities, because they continued to do self-education. Both my mother and my father never stopped; it was keeping up basically with the things that were going on in the environments that they were involved in.


Tyler

What joint activities did you and this peer group do together? Did you all go to the YMCA together?


King

Well, my situation was kind of odd. I was one of the few who really went from group to group to group, so the group would have ongoing activities and I would simply


157
plug into those things.


Tyler

For example?


King

Well, for example, I used to go over to Jefferson High School on occasion, maybe once or twice each week when I'd come from Manual Arts, and that group would be all into, let's go to the football game or the basketball game or whatever was really in vogue in that particular season. It really only involved those two sports on a major basis, but there were other things. So when I would plug in over there, I would sometimes go to those activities with them.

The frats were fairly active too, and they had sports activities, especially basketball, back in those days. So I would simply plug into activities that were ongoing. They would have parties and social activities, and I found that on a Friday night—and that's generally when the activities would occur, a few on Saturdays—I would go to both. And I got in the habit of going places, talking with the people that were there, and then leaving and going to another place. So I was setting up a calendar, which was sort of what we called it: the Eastside and the Westside, Main Street being east, and west of Main being west. I was generally going from place to place on Friday night, where most other people were staying wherever their activity and wherever their group was. I was able to do that for a


158
couple of reasons. One, I worked real hard; and I had an automobile.


Tyler

That was in high school, you had a car?


King

Oh, yeah.


Tyler

Tenth grade?


King

As soon as I was fifteen and a half. You could get a driver's license at fifteen and a half, and the day I was fifteen and a half was the day I had a car.


Tyler

You bought that car yourself?


King

My dad helped me. The payment on the automobile— It was a Model A; we bought it down on automobile row. At that time it was Figueroa [Street] and—


Tyler

Figueroa used to be called automobile row?


King

It was automobile row, that's right, from Jefferson [Boulevard] probably to, oh, Twelfth Street, almost Olympic [Boulevard]; it was automobile row all the way, and it still is to some extent right now automobile row. There are other automobile rows now, but that was the automobile row.

I bought a Model A Ford, and I've forgotten what the price was, but it was less than a hundred dollars. The payment on it was $3.50 a week, and I believe my dad paid $1.50 a week on it, and I paid $2.00. Or it was vice versa: he paid the $2.00, and I paid the $1.50.

Now there were other expenses that were involved in


159
connection with the car other than just the purchase, and I used to work at the gas station. I blocked out Saturdays and I worked at a gas station, and at the end of that gas-station day, I had my money to take care of my automobile for a week. I could do all the maintenance on it sort of on the job, and while I was there, I could use their tools and I could get spark plugs for little or nothing, and I kept that four-cylinder baby just running like a brand new one. I used to lube it—


Tyler

Was this a white or black employer?


King

Black employer. He owned the gas station, and the gas station was at [Forty-third] Street and Central [Avenue]. I worked ten hours a day for two dollars a day, and it was a good job. Given the fact that there were no jobs, it was a good job. And you had those kinds of things. Now, sometimes during the day, when I would wipe off people's windows quite well, you get a tip here and there, you know, a dime, fifteen cents, once in a while a quarter—


Tyler

A lot of money then.


King

Oh, yes, and how! I knew that it was rewarding; if you do a good enough job on a consistent basis, that it will have favorable feedback. And I knew that, and I always then established a high standard of doing things. I always intended to do a good job. I've never tried to give


160
anybody less than a good performance at whatever it is that they pay me a fee to do. I never avoided, I never tried to duck out on it; I never tried to give them anything less. I do that today just as I've done it always. It's part of the ethic that if people are going to spend money with you, well, you owe them the best that you can do. There may be some situation where you may look particularly good or particularly bad, but you should still always do your best. And you shouldn't be necessarily looking for rewards on the other end, because that's why people pay you. And if you get a reward on the other end, that's a plus, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But now, in the nature of the business, of course, that I am in, I do not accept gratuities. People can only pay me whatever the fee happens to be, and that's where it is. I don't accept anything.


Tyler

Why is that?


King

I really feel committed to service, and I think that you should, if you are going to take a business and make an effort to elevate it to a profession, then what you should do is to be professional. And I do not think that it is necessary to accept gratuities in terms of dollars or gifts or those kinds of things. Now, if it is a situation where people make referrals to me, that is what I want, but in terms of somebody giving me X number of dollars, something


161
of that nature, number one, I don't solicit it, and number two, I don't accept it.


Tyler

Now, what advantages did having a car bring? Or disadvantages? Did it dramatically change your life?


King

It tremendously did. Number one, I was able to get around. There were only a few places that we could go in those days. I was able to go to the beach if I chose to, and I could go down to Santa Monica, jump in the ocean, get back in the car, drive back and say, "Oh boy, this California's great." Not that if in Chicago I could not have done the same thing and driven to Lake Michigan and done the same thing. I think that the big difference to me was one of the timing, and that is that I just enjoyed jumping in that Pacific occasionally, and that was just great.

The other thing is Val Verde; Val Verde was sort of the black Palm Springs at that time, and I was able to drive there. It was about fifty-five miles from my house, but I was able to drive up to Val Verde. Val Verde at that time was a place where almost, I'd say half of the major families in town owned a lot and frequently had a house on it, and if they did not have a house on it, well, they were planning on building one. So Val Verde was the place to go. There was also a group of people who had some loyalty to a couple of other places, but Val Verde seemed to be the


162
shining spot and I enjoyed that. Later, of course, as years have gone by, there have been a lot of changes up there. They had a large swimming pool, they had a lot of green area up there, a nice field house, Ping-Pong, and always there were some sort of baseball games or something on weekends. So there were a lot of good activities. You'd go up there and lie on the lawn for a little bit, and, hey, you felt like you were ready to go again. So I enjoyed Val Verde very much. We still have our place up there, and we still go up there on occasion—very, very seldom now.


Tyler

Is this something your parents bought up there, a lot up there, or you?


King

No, I bought the place up there. It's about ten acres that's pretty excellent, and maybe another four or five that are pretty usable. The whole place is thirty-two acres. It's on a hillside, so it kind of goes up into the sort of mountainous area. You know, like half of it is not really that usable, but it is a very nice place, and it's breathtaking. During the sixties, we used to take the kids up there every weekend, and in the summer my wife Anita [Givens King] would just take the kids up there, and they would just stay. I would commute, you know, back and forth; it was always great. We ultimately ended up with horses and other kinds of things, a good opportunity for


163
the youngsters when they were growing up. And it wasn't that ultraexpensive that ultraexpensive from our standpoint, because the kids always were taught to work up there, and they had to keep the place in order themselves, so we didn't have a lot of hired people. We had one hired person, so it meant that they had to do a lot of the work themselves, and that was a good experience for them.


Tyler

And you bought the place when?


King

I bought it in the early sixties.


Tyler

You bought it all at one time, the acres at one time?


King

Yes, one time.


Tyler

Was that from a black real estate group?


King

Yeah, I bought it from a black woman [Sudie Brock]. Prior to that, she had bought it from a white, but I bought it from a black woman.


Tyler

There was a whole movement to get a black settlement in Val Verde, was it?


King

There was, yes.


Tyler

In fact, one of my friends, Ray Smith, his sister or aunt or one of his relatives was very important in that. He was showing me some pictures and parades.


King

There was— Every year there was a parade; in fact—


Tyler

What was the parade for?


King

Summer parade. There was a beauty pageant up there,


164
and a summer parade. I believe it was July 4, but I can't really recall, even though I was grand marshall of the parade once.


Tyler

Oh, really?


King

We had wagons, we had old wagons, and we'd hitch the horses up to them. We had a surrey, and pictures came out in all the papers up there, and it was a big event; a lot of people came to watch the event.


Tyler

How many would you say?


King

Oh, maybe ten thousand. It was well publicized, and people from L.A., some coming up from the Pacoima area, which was reasonably close, and many coming from the inner city, mostly, I guess, out of nostalgia.


Tyler

Now, was this strictly a private area, county or city projects, or territory?


King

Well, one of the things that gave it the stability was the fact that it had been selected for whatever reason to be sort of a place where blacks would be able to go, so that they would not be involved in trying to break into other areas. And the county made a tremendous investment up there; they have a fifty-acre county park, and as I say, with the swimming pool and all and the field house and the upkeep and things, that was a tremendous involvement, a financial involvement.


Tyler

What county personnel or supervisor was that?



165
King

Oh, they had a full complement. They had always a park director, and he had—


Tyler

Was he black?


King

Black, yeah. Actually, a black woman was up there for many years, probably ten years, and at the time that I was attending [there] it was a black male who was in charge. There was even somewhat of an integrated staff up there, because the impact up there was basically in the summer months, and—


Tyler

Did a few people live up there during the regular year?


King

Most of the people lived in Los Angeles and simply owned a house up there.


Tyler

And many more would just go up there to the park, who were not owning any property, of course.


King

Right. There were always two motels around—I think it's three now—but there were motels that were around. Incidentally, the PBS [Public Broadcasting System], the public TV people did a major piece in connection with Val Verde.


Tyler

Recently?


King

Oh, about five years ago. That piece was aired all across the country, talking about sort of the history of sort of a black Palm Springs out here and what has happened and how it's evolving, how the changes are taking place in


166
Val Verde.

I turned out to be probably the resource base as far as blacks were up there, because I had known it for so many years until they pulled me in. And I went up there and spent a day with them. We walked and drove and talked about Val Verde, and I think it was a very remarkable piece. Of course, I was also interviewed by a couple of the other radio channels, after Channel 28, which is our public broadcast down here, after they aired it. And I did those interviews. I really talked about the whole anatomy of an area that was once black that was going to be reverse integrated, and it is coming to pass. The canyon itself is probably one of the finest canyons in Southern California; it's absolutely beautiful.


Tyler

Now, how far is Val Verde from L.A.?


King

It's fifty miles roughly, depending on where you're leaving from in L.A.


Tyler

Now, is that still a boom area for blacks, or what?


King

It is not a boom area for blacks at all anymore. Blacks don't go up there in any large amount. There are a number of blacks that are up there that are living, but it is comparatively few in numbers to the great influx of blacks that used to come up there on weekends.


Tyler

When did it collapse as a boom area for black summer recreation?



167
King

I think in the early seventies is when it began to turn down.


Tyler

Is there any special reason why?


King

I think with the opening up of so many other areas, they simply couldn't meet the competitive approach. You know, I had the choice of selling out and moving that asset, for instance, to Palm Springs, just as many other people had other areas. There are probably twenty-five, thirty good areas. You've got the Big Bear area, that whole mountain situation that's up there; there are a number of blacks who ended up by going to that area. There are a few other lakes that are around. The [Lake] Elsinore situation, which has kind of gone dry and then overflowed with water (and water being its base draw), was also a place where a number of blacks used to go years ago. It was somewhat similar as far as a place for blacks to go, just like Val Verde. Some had a preference for one or the other. But Val Verde began to make its turn down, and it could not bear the time and the test of hard integration.


Tyler

Integration then was a factor. Was Val Verde ever a national attraction?


King

Oh, I would say it was nationally known. It was not a national attraction because they generally never had the kind of facilities for people to be able to stay there. And because it's about five miles off of the main highway,


168
you always had to have private transportation to get up there, and there was no local transportation to assist you. There was only one way to go up there, and that was some sort of motor transportation. Now, there were buses that would come from churches and other kinds of things, but the normal bus did not come off the main road, so it was very difficult from that standpoint. But the location is just ideal.


Tyler

Now, did your parents have a summer home? Did they ever acquire their summer home and provide it for you coming up this way?


King

No, we didn't ever have a summer home. We went to places in the summer where friends of my parents would have places, like up in Victorville; there were a few blacks up there who had ranches, up in the desert a hundred miles or so.


Tyler

Like who?


King

Let me see if I can think of some of the names; those are awfully old-timers. Given our next discussion, I will give you some of those. The most prominent and the most nationally known was called Murray's Ranch, and this is not the same Murray with the pomade, just similar names. That ranch was well known as the black dude ranch. Herb Jeffries used to go up there and ride around on the horse.



169
Tyler

Oh, he was a black buckaroo, right?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

He did a lot of black movies. Did they ever do black movies there?


King

Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm sure they did, because that place got an awful lot of attention as far as blacks were concerned.


Tyler

Now, this summer home, how did you see that? Was that a major— I mean, why did you decide to buy it? What was the reasoning and impact of that? Well, you said some of the impact. What was the reasoning? How did you come to buy it?


King

Well, one time I was trying to put together the classic statement, which was to have everything going that's needed. I guess it was maybe an early version of the yuppie approach. It was to have excellent domestic relationships, you know: good wife, good children, good home, good transportation, good business; own an office, a home, and a spot to go on the weekends. So I was really, I think, without thinking so much about it, trying to put the classic textbook full balance. There were the vacations that were somewhat scheduled; there was the business trips that were scheduled sometimes around events. There was the involvement in attending the plays. We used to take all our kids to opening nights of the light opera plays here in


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Los Angeles. We had season tickets. Oh, they weren't exactly the best tickets in the house, but those kids all dressed up in their little, long, you know, my two girls dressed up in their little, long dresses for opening night, and, hey, we were there. We were a part of Los Angeles, and I think I was putting the perfect balance together.


Tyler

Did you see this as a status model? Were you consciously, like, social climbing, the term sociologists use?


King

I didn't really see myself social climbing, because I saw myself as already there, with a balance. I went to all the major football games, all the major dances that occurred, the major key activities that were political that occurred. I always knew, for instance, all of the people at a political level: the congresspeople, the senators, the governor, and, of course, assembly and city council, mayor, those kinds of things. Always knew all those people on a first-name basis. Always participated in the key activities that occurred. We were socially responsible as far as our community was concerned. So I saw myself as having put it all together. Somewhat the remnants of those things are that I still own a ranch for weekends, which I don't go to.


Tyler

That's not the house at Val Verde?


King

Yes, it's still there.



171
Tyler

Are the horses still there?


King

No. No.


Tyler

Just the land?


King

The land is there and there's, well what we sometimes call now our "Tobacco Road" shack, but it used to look like the house on the hill.


Tyler

No one maintains it?


King

Yes, I have a person that lives up there, and they maintain it. It doesn't cost me very much to maintain it, because I don't charge the person any rent, and I furnish some services, and they furnish some services. So it's sort of a trade-off kind of situation. Of course, you still always have to concern yourself with what people are doing, so it means that you have to find somebody who just wants to be up there. I mean, you just can't pick somebody up basically from a want ad and send them up there. I mean, they have to like the place and want to be up there. And we pretty well had it all together. I made all the major sports activities across the country. When the World Series came up—


Tyler

You were off and gone!


King

I was generally there at the opening game. I never went seven games, but I was there for the opening game. All the major fights that took place, major track meets even. In fact, I went over to Rome in 1960, after having


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followed the development of our Olympic team, and having gone up to Palo Alto when they had the trials, and then they trained in Southern California. I threw a backyard reception for a number of the Olympians.


Tyler

For the 1960 Olympians?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Did that have anything to do with some of the local athletes that got you involved, or [were] you part of the race pride of the blacks participating?


King

Well, I think that I was attracted to things that would attract maybe an awful lot of people if they could do it. Example: if—you can't use today's criteria—but if you were going to have a major fight someplace across this country, there was tremendous interest in it; it didn't have to be a heavyweight fight, as they draw this, that, and the other, fine. There was sort of a situation of, hey, if I had a choice to be [somewhere] next Thursday night, okay, where would I be? Well, fine, I would be wherever the major event is that is taking place, and that's what I did.


Tyler

Do you think that that was a part of your moving at an early age from Chicago to L.A. and saying, "Wow, this is great!" and then having a car and going from party to party, from group to group? It was a larger extension of that?



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King

That's all it was, it really was.


Tyler

To be where the action was?


King

Yeah. In fact, I used to go into towns— I remember so clearly, for instance, in 1961 going into Cincinnati when they were having— Cincinnati had won the pennant, and they were having the World Series there, and I went into that town, and I did not know on a personal basis one individual. A number of people had been called in Cincinnati saying I was coming there, and I've always sort of had one press person to handle my press situation.


Tyler

This is what year?


King

Well, 1961.


Tyler

And you had a press person?


King

Oh, yeah, I've always had a press person.



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Tape Number: V, Side Two
May 25, 1985

King

My press guy at that time was Lawrence [F.] Lamar.


Tyler

Is that John Lamar's brother?


King

No, this is Lawrence Lamar, and Lawrence Lamar for some fifty years had the Negro Press Bureau.


Tyler

Oh, that's right.


King

Lawrence worked out of my office. Now, he did all—


Tyler

What office? Was this bail bonds then?


King

It was out of the bail bond office. Yeah, I was on Central Avenue at the time. I was in the corner office at the Dunbar Hotel, and Lawrence would sent out national releases on a once-a-month basis, basically stressing anything that I had done positive. You tend to live up to those things to some extent. Fine. So I went into this town of Cincinnati, and, as I say, I had a few phone numbers. And they had hit the press, you know, that I was coming from L.A., meaning the black paper back there. I'm not talking about the dailies or any of those things back in those days. And just fine. I hit that town, I was there for three days, and on the night of the third night—


Tyler

What year?


King

'Sixty-one. They had a going-away party for me.


Tyler

Who did?


King

Blacks in Cincinnati. Now, I was able to go into


175
town—


Tyler

And get a focus on you right away.


King

Quickly. But the preliminary work was always done, right, and I did it town after town. I went into Portland, Oregon; I knew one person in Portland when I went there. Now, it turned out I knew a lot of people, but I didn't identify them. Same identical thing in Seattle, you name it. Even places like Ogden, Utah, where they didn't have newspapers. Lawrence Lamar would send the news release out to the local Elks Lodge, the American Legion and the other black civic clubs that were there, and somehow he seemed to know a lot of folks everywhere, even though he never traveled at all. Fine. Whoever was there who was the head of the, maybe of the local black union, or whatever it happened to be, hey, zip, straight to the top of the thing, you know.


Tyler

What did that do, give you a place to stay when you arrived, someone to show you around, introduce you?


King

I always preferred to stay in hotels because of the privacy that you have and the fact that you are not always on front row center; yet I enjoyed being front row center when I stepped out of the privacy, but I wanted to have the enclave that I could always go back into. And almost every place I would go, Lawrence would always do the advance number, and he did the advance number from right where he


176
was. The advance number was done in Rome when I went there. It was already known that I was coming; it was in the Italian papers.


Tyler

They actually would publish the releases?


King

Oh yeah, he was a professional writer. He knew how to put them together, along with a picture when he thought a picture was appropriate. We'd always buy the pictures a hundred at a time, just as I do now. I got boxes of them that are up there, and, fine, and, you know, it worked. So there roughly were a hundred papers across this country that Lawrence Lamar used to send out releases to. Now, if you could ask me if I could afford this major kind of involvement and expense that was there, the answer is that I could not afford not to have it, because I actually made money as a result of that. Because I was the only black really identified with the bail bond business at that time in Los Angeles. If anyone had family elsewhere in the country, they were, in general, able to identify me as being here. And just as today, there is not a day that goes by, including today, where this morning I got a phone call from some people in Saint Louis because they have a relative in custody out here, so it, to me, has been a situation that has been rewarding from a number of standpoints. I really have so long ago passed the ego point where I have a need for this, because it's something


177
that always occurs. If something occurs long enough, you're not dealing to an ego need; you're just dealing to a norm, and the norm is that those kinds of things occur. We were just talking a little bit earlier that I've done two radio broadcasts and one TV in the last ten days.


Tyler

Now, why and when did you start this? What was the purpose of this type of introduction?


King

Well, it was really a fairly fortuitous kind of a situation when the opportunity came, yet I was always concerned with that. So when the opportunity came, well, fine, I just reached in to do it. I had some relatives, for instance, who took pride in the fact that their picture had never been in the newspaper. That was important to them. On the other hand, my mother was very socially active, and it meant that she was in the social section of the newspaper all the time and was always in the ten bestdressed women, all of those things, year in and year out. It also was that my dad paid for ad space, and when you pay for ad space, it also means that you have the latitude of being able to get other things into a newspaper.


Tyler

This was ads for the Dunbar.


King

Ads for the Dunbar and ads— My dad went into the liquor business.


Tyler

Wholesale or retail?


King

Retail. He had a couple of liquor stores.



178
Tyler

In the Central Avenue area?


King

Yeah, one was on skid row, at Sixth [Street] and Central, and—


Tyler

Is this the fifties? Forties? Thirties?


King

Forties, early forties. My dad ultimately stopped managing the hotel and opened up his own business, of course with my granduncle [James Nelson]'s full blessings, who did own the hotel. I mean, we were that type of a family. We always wanted to see people move ahead and prosper and those kinds of things. So, it was that I was doing things on a fairly random basis, and Lawrence Lamar lived in the hotel, and—


Tyler

This is the Dunbar.


King

In the Dunbar.


Tyler

This is the forties, fifties.


King

We're into the fifties now. He lived in the Dunbar, and I had ultimately moved my office to the corner of the Dunbar in 1957, and, of course, he turned out and used the address and a PO box that he had, you know, for his operation, which was Negro Press Bureau. And from time to time he would send out a release on me, and one day we chatted, and I said, "Look, I'd like to have a national release once a month, but only based upon the things that I do. I don't want anything created, no false images out there. But I just want somebody to record and to send out


179
the things that I do."


Tyler

Why?


King

Well, first of all, I feel that the best type of PR, of public relations, should be around building the things that you in fact do and publicizing those, and not the creation of an image that does not exist.


Tyler

I mean, that's the way you felt then.


King

I feel the same way now. Nothing goes out about me that is not really a reflection of what I do.


Tyler

What I'm trying to get at, why did you make a decision to do that? What were you driving at? What were your goals or intentions?


King

My goal or intention basically was to continue to build my business. I wanted to build it by creating an imagery and elevating the imagery of, basically, bail agents. Bail agents' images were not going to opening night at the light opera. Well, I did that, okay? Fine, it was not going to national parks with your kids, but I did those kinds of things. It was certainly not being involved in philanthropic activities, walking door to door, even at that point, getting small contributions from other business people, and I wanted that kind of projection, only. It was to elevate the image of the business that I was in. I saw there a situation which I knew that the image was not being properly portrayed, and I certainly


180
wanted to, as much as I could, move my business image up and, in that same light, elevate the business image of any other bail agents that I could.


Tyler

But, now, didn't you sort of merge in some cases with the sports and stuff, or sort of a flamboyant image?


King

Well—


Tyler

I don't say that positively or negatively. I'm just sort of thinking, you know, you had some experience with entertainers, and people would know here comes Lena Horne or here comes Cab Calloway. [laughter] I'm wondering if you were using some entertainer tactics here [laughter] or, for example, what's-his-name with his airplane.


King

Jimmie Lunceford


Tyler

Yeah, because Cab Calloway used to send his car, his big flashy car by train, so as soon as he hit town, he started rolling in town. Everybody [would] know he was on the scene. So I was sort of wondering if some of it had rubbed off on you. [laughter]


King

I really had not thought of it so much in that way because I still had an understanding that entertainers were doing it for the reason of money too. So that flamboyance that most of them were doing, you know, had something to do with their ability to draw ticket sales, and I saw it to some extent the same way. But likewise, when I would go


181
all these places, Lamar would have already arranged for a photographer there. Our phone bills were high, and our postage bills were high, even when postage was low in price. Back in those days you had a mimeograph machine, and we had good mimeograph machines and we'd beat out that copy, and those kinds of things. I always took the time to review it, so that he wouldn't, you know, overdo it. But Lamar himself was low-key too, so we really fit together just perfectly. But I would take pictures where I would go and I'd come back and, hey, we'd get duplicates made of those and we'd shoot those out. We found that the dateline on a lot of the black press was not that important. What was important was that it was a story that was professionally put together in the sort of ethnic press acceptability. What we found was that if you put a good story together based on whatever those standards are that are being used by most of these presses, and it's not too long, it's not too short, covers certain essential [details], it's got a hookline that's involved in it, that because of the fact that most of the small press simply don't have the money to hire feature writers, that they will give that piece some consideration. And then if you happen to know the editor of the paper and you happen to be sending them things on a frequent basis, you can ultimately become an integral part of a hundred newspapers and never walk inside the door.



182
Tyler

Just a matter of organization and persistence.


King

We did it on a consistent basis; every other week Lawrence's pieces would go. Writing about Los Angeles, writing about California is interesting to people in New Orleans, various parts of Mississippi, all over. Now, how did that pay off? Okay, I can give you some examples that are just unbelievable. Take families who have left Louisiana, but their ties have never left Louisiana, and they still subscribe to the Louisiana Weekly. When they pick up the Louisiana Weekly and they see the picture in there and the cutlines of someone here in Los Angeles, you would be surprised how the affinity occurs: that all of a sudden the thing that they think most of, "Why here's a black guy in Los Angeles being publicized in Louisiana." Now, that moves your esteem one notch higher, and when some kind of business comes along, and I am in a business and I do want to make a dollar, those people will call me. I can be in the local press every week, fifty-two weeks a year, and it won't ring a bell with them, but if they're from Louisiana, and there's an article in Louisiana— And sometimes we spent a little extra time and we'd tailor something. I mentioned that particular one, but I guess the most significant one is that we sent out a news release nationally with my picture and all that, and we sent it to the black paper in Houston, Texas. It was run on the front


183
page.


Tyler

Really?


King

Half a page. We almost fell out on the floor.


Tyler

Oh, you would also buy all of the papers that—


King

We used to have a clipping service that dealt with all the black papers across the country, and the clipping service would forward all the things back in that they would pick up.


Tyler

Well, of course, too, you know that Louisiana and Texas have the highest percentage of black migrants to Southern California.


King

And the reaction was great. I received calls from all over [the] Los Angeles black community when I was on the front page. You've got a lot of people out here that are from Houston or from wherever, and they want to keep up with what's going on. For years I used to take the Chicago Defender. When I say I, I mean my family. We took the Chicago Defender. We had all left there, but we always took the Chicago Defender. Of course, there are Chicago clubs out here, Dallas clubs, Saint Louis clubs, and those people all try to keep a little bit of linkage of what's going on.


Tyler

Back home.


King

Yeah. It has paid major dividends, and it has caused me probably to be the best-known bondsman in


184
America. And I say that bar none. I mean today, of course, I've moved into the total arena out there, and I would say that, bar none, in America that I am probably the best-known bondsman. Now, this is a unique field; there are some eight thousand licensed agents in this country, probably about half that are really, you know, sort of doing the game. And, of course, for every licensee, you're talking about a lot of other people. Like we used to have an old saying that for every person that you have that is flying a plane, there are nine people supporting him. So it's the same kind of situation. So you probably got a half a dozen people that are involved in a business for each one of those licensees, so there's a lot of involvement. You may very well have fifty thousand people that are directly involved in the situation. I have achieved, through the electoral process and my business, about as high as I can go.


Tyler

Now, you achieved some national recognition for civil rights people who were bonded by you when they were in the South, right?


King

Well, I worked out a scheme, and it was a scheme, and nobody else was able to do it but me. In the sixties I was involved with a company called Wabash Fire and Insurance Company—Wabash Fire and Casualty Insurance Company. That company has long since disappeared. They


185
went bankrupt, ultimately, trying to become a giant instead of staying where they were and making a great living. They wanted to become a new Rock of Gibraltar, and started taking on risks that they just couldn't handle. So, what happened was this was a national company, and I was resident vice president here in California.


Tyler

This was Chicago based?


King

Indianapolis, Indiana. And we had a national situation where, if I wanted a bond posted in Miami, Florida, or Pennsylvania or Washington, D.C., I could call into the home office, and the home office would direct the person in that area who was my counterpart, who was in charge of the state, to post that bond, okay? Now, the bondsmen in most parts of the South had a gentlemen's agreement that they would leave these radicals in, as they called them.


Tyler

They didn't want to bond them?


King

They would not bond them.


Tyler

Black or white bondsmen.


King

That is correct.


Tyler

Why?


King

Well, first of all, all the black bondsmen worked for white bondsmen. They were basically runners. Well, because it wasn't in their self-interest in the area. Number one, the mores of their community said, "Hey, look,


186
the fact that we got our private little apartheid kind of situation down there, we're still doing right by those folks, and they should be happy." Of course, they weren't happy that they couldn't go in Woolworth's and get a hot dog and a cup of coffee. But, anyway, with the freedom riders going down, and then after the freedom riders and other kinds of things, something had to be done, so I worked out this scheme. I had been handling every situation that came up out here. The Torrance matter—


Tyler

You bonded the Muslims in the shoot-out, April '62.


King

And the reason that I was able to do that is because I was vice president, and I was the, in effect, the chief executive officer in the state of the company I was doing business with. So there was no one who could tell me that I couldn't do it. That was not true with the other companies.


Tyler

For the tape, this was the April 27, 1962, LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department] raid on the Black Muslim mosque and shoot-out—


King

At Fifty-eighth [Street] and Broadway.


Tyler

So you posted bond. Did the police threaten you for posting the bond?


King

I was told by so many people until it was unbelievable—


Tyler

To stay away from that?



187
King

Well, I was told that I would not be posting any more bonds in this town. The entire basic structure of this town— And understand the mayor was a personal friend of mine; the mayor had been to my house twenty times.


Tyler

Is this [Samuel W.] Yorty?


King

Yeah, and also the prior mayor, [Norris] Poulson, but the whole thing was that I had control of every bond that was posted in this state. Well, people generally can investigate and check out things, but no one ever bothered to check that out; they just assumed that there were restraints. And there was this general gentlemen's agreement that they were antiwhite, that they were anti-Los Angeles and antieverything that you could think was being painted on them. The truth of the matter is that they really weren't. And I've heard Sam Yorty say—


Tyler

You're talking about the Black Muslims then.


King

I've heard Sam Yorty say, and this was sort of at a private get-together of all the people that were city commissioners under him, and this was just six months ago, that it really was a police-provoked situation, as he viewed it now, looking back.


Tyler

With the Muslims?


King

Yes.


Tyler

And he happened to bring that up—


King

Oh, he's exonerated them.



188
Tyler

At this late date?


King

Oh, he had done it before. But I mean just six months ago, he mentioned it again.


Tyler

What about this bail bonds business in the South again? We were on that.


King

Okay, what happened was I devised a scheme where I would not be involved in it at all, and it would be a situation of the company requesting these bondsmen in the South to post the bonds. Now, if I had called them direct, even though I knew them all direct because we all had similar kinds of positions, there is no way in the world that they would have touched those things. But their whole livelihood was based upon a certain type of an operation with other bondsmen throughout the country, based on the insurance company being the headquarters and the insurance company directing you to post the bonds. And you posted these bonds without liability; you weren't guaranteeing the people would show up. I'm talking about the local posting agents, say, in the South. So we had a situation I decided to try to model. I called in a number of folks, and we talked about it. And I said, "Well, I got to be sure I'm with one of the groups that I know will show up for court," and that kind of situation. So I worked it out and I found the model group, made the call to the Midwest, and the Midwest gave them the names and told them to get them out


189
of jail. And this was the beginning of bursting the bubble. When it turned out that these white bondsmen were getting out the freedom riders and the other kinds of folks, all of a sudden they said, "Look, if these are local blacks that are in, we're going to get them out." In other words, they began to change the criteria. So most of the people that were involved in those local activities were actually indigenous to those communities. It was not all— The travelers got all the publicity, but after the travelers left, the local people were the ones who had to carry on the fight.


Tyler

And had to go back to court, where some people could skip out of town and maybe not show up again.


King

But the local people lived there, and they were a part of the scene, and they did go back, and there were— In fact, most of the cases ultimately got dismissed, because they would break down the system; they would get so many people in jail until the system couldn't deal with them. So they'd slap them on the wrist and let them out and say, "All right, now don't you all do that anymore."


Tyler

So you were saying, before you intervened then in the civil rights movement in the South, they could not get bonds.


King

They weren't getting any help. But once I broke the bubble, and that was the whole scheme, that was the


190
scenario that was to be played out, and that was to start getting them out, and then other bail agents down there would say, "Well, why should we— If Joe Jones is going to get him out, why shouldn't I get him out? Why shouldn't I make the bucks?"


Tyler

In other words, it was an economically competitive thing, that here's business, why not use it, no matter what the politics?


King

Absolutely.


Tyler

Someone had to break that gentlemen's agreement.


King

And I broke it by using all whites involved: white folk in the Middle West calling white folk in the South and saying, "Hey, here's a bond to post." And when you get a bond to post and you're dealing with your major insurance company that causes you to make a very good living, you're going to go post that bond.


Tyler

In other words, they're getting pressure from the top, not from the bottom now. Unless they want to get out of the business.


King

And it was, why would they go? They had great opportunities there; they were making a good living. Somebody would be in charge of an entire state, and they weren't about to give those dollars up, that relationship. Now, there was no such thing as saying no to the company. The company tells you to do something, and they're going to


191
pay you to do it, and then you're going to tell them, "I'm not going to do it"?


Tyler

That's insubordination.


King

That isn't insubordination, that's suicide. I mean, they're going to pay you your fee to go out and do something, where you don't have any liability on it, you don't even have to see the people. Just go write the bond and leave.


Tyler

I mean, it's like bypassing a thousand dollar bill on the ground.


King

Or whatever size the bill happened to be. But that broke it, that broke it.


Tyler

And that's a major contribution that you probably have not been particularly recognized for?


King

It's been mentioned many, many times.


Tyler

It has?


King

In fact, in 1964, CORE [the Congress of Racial Equality] had a rally at the, on Jefferson [Boulevard]— What's the name of the place on Jefferson over here, the large building that's over here? The Shrine Auditorium. And they had like five thousand people present. They made one award.


Tyler

When was this?


King

Nineteen sixty-four. At that time, awards were not a dime a dozen, and the award was significant. They didn't


192
just print them out by the ream, and every local politician [would] get in the act. There was one award presented, roughly five thousand people there, and they presented that award to me. So CORE knew what I did.


Tyler

Was that award for that, or what?


King

Yes, it was to a large extent for having broken that monopoly that was going on and [having] broken that cycle of every black having to stay in jail or put up full cash. NAACP, to a large extent, was getting out, was borrowing money from people across the country who were in effect putting it in a trust fund, and they were having to cash the people out. Well, they were going to break the movement. You can't afford to cash the people out, because the resources would ultimately dry up, so by this situation—


Tyler

Not only that, some squabbles were coming up over some people being bailed out and others not.


King

Yeah, but that was the choice that the NAACP was making, and, of course, they were raising the money and they were providing the lawyers to fight the cases, so, you know, that was their choice. And you had people who, on principle, would decide simply to stay in.


Tyler

Now, what year was this bubble burst? 'Sixty-one? 'Sixty?


King

Well, really, I found out and discovered that I had


193
the power to do it, that I could execute, and that there would be no recrimination for doing it. Now, I always knew I could do it, okay. But I could have been cut off. They could have ultimately said— They could have joined and put a conspiracy together. And I was the only black in America that was with this national company at the level of a resident vice president. Being resident vice president of California was fairly significant. It had some economic benefits that were side benefits, in addition. So I put all those factors on the table, and I said, "I'm also making money for my company, so it works both ways." And when a lot of letters went in in connection with me, back to the company, after the Muslim situation, they were just routinely forwarded to me. So all of the complaints that went in about my getting the Muslims out, every one of them came back to my desk.


Tyler

Do you still have those letters?


King

No, they didn't mean anything to me then. They didn't mean anything to me then. I get letters all the time, you know.


Tyler

Yeah, you—


King

Some good, some bad.


Tyler

—have a warehouse full.


King

But a lot of complaints went in, there were a lot of complaints. There must have been a hundred letters that


194
were written. And in California, it was set up in such a fashion that if they looked up the company, well, the letter came directly to me, because the company had a listing; it just had my address on it, without my name, so all those letters came to me. And then those that did go back to the company, those few people who pursued those things, the company just sent them to me, just routinely.


Tyler

I was trying to get to the year. 'Sixty-two? 'Sixty-three?


King

I guess we're talking about '62, '63, '64. I can't really pinpoint exactly when we put that thing together.


Tyler

But it would be roughly before '65.


King

Oh, well before '65.


Tyler

Anywhere between 1960 and 1965, right? I would imagine.


King

I would say it was before the March on Washington [for Jobs and Freedom]; that was '63, wasn't it?


Tyler

Yeah, August '63.


King

It was before the March on Washington.


Tyler

Because '60, '61, '62 or '63 were the big freedom rides.


King

Yeah, it was clearly before then. It's hard for me to identify, except that it was after the movement situation in terms of time, and that was '62. Probably right after that.



195
Tyler

Well, I guess we better shift to another— But that's fascinating, because ultimately that activity of promoting yourself across the country had a business impact here, and then the civil rights affairs tied you in, and you had a bail bond effect, a very important one, a tremendous one there.


King

Yeah. No doubt about it.


Tyler

And you did have some vision that, you know, you had visions that this sort of thing, in one way or another, some benefits would come from that.


King

I felt it would crack the bubble, yeah. I knew that they weren't going to stand by and watch their competitor walk across the street and post those bonds, because you see they didn't know why the competitor was posting them. The competitor was not posting them because he wanted to, but because they had to.


Tyler

The other factor was that despite that specific incident that came up, that even prior to that you had already had an understanding that your local business would be impacted from people who would be here or living in other states. You would have the name recognition, and certainly in the civil rights movements, it's one of the major payoffs or benefits that you had.


King

Yeah, absolutely, I was aware of that, and I knew that it would occur, and it did occur, it did occur. I've


196
been able to survive in this business for thirty-three years now, and that's a lot of longevity. And if you look in this community and try to find the black businesses that are still alive after thirty-three years—


Tyler

It's rare.


King

You are not going to be able to count to thirty-three.


Tyler

Absolutely, absolutely. Well, what were some of the other peer experiences you had with your group?


King

I've got to wrap.


Tyler

Oh, okay, we've gone a little bit beyond time. Okay, we'll stop here.



197

Tape Number: VI, Side One
June 1, 1985

Tyler

Well, we left off last time talking about some of the peer group influences that impacted upon you, and left off asking [about] any other impacts or important peer group influences that would affect your life then and even later, and, of course, you had talked at length about some of the influences of the group.


King

I need you just to assist me in refreshing my memory a little more.


Tyler

Okay.


King

A number of events have occurred in the last week.


Tyler

Okay, one of the things we talked about was that you had a car you got at fifteen and a half or so, and you would go from one school group to a neighborhood group and go to different parties, because you moved between different peer groups. Later in life, of course, your political and business career allowed you to mobilize and not necessarily get overly identified or stuck with one group, and you just mentioned that there were individuals that were, whether it was Jackie Robinson or the football player—


King

Kenny Washington.


Tyler

—Kenny Washington, that all of you sort of naturally assumed that you were going to be successful,


198
that you were, in many ways, a very elite or outstanding group or achievement-oriented group who were all well-rounded, and that you tended to associate with those groups rather than, say, the criminal element or those who weren't ambitious or had no well-directed goals. So you took a lot of this for granted in that, because you moved between several groups, that you weren't overly identified with one individual or clique, which was the basic answer.


King

Right, there—


Tyler

So other than that, I was saying were there any other particular incidents that became crucial in terms of, say, sometimes people choose a career, or they got to go into the navy or military, and some of their peer groups, you know, they say, "Well, we got to do this as partners or friends," in that sort of direction. In your case, I guess your family or even your own decision determined what you were going to do. Some people that influenced you like the airplane pilot and musician [Jimmie Lunceford] played a big role in your eventually going into the air force or The Air Corps, the military Air Corps.


King

I now can pick up pretty well from back at that point. I guess I should mention the fact that one of the influencing factors was a pool hall that I used to go to on occasion. I had learned to play pool quite well at the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association], and, of course,


199
back in those days, there was a significance to where one played pool, not so much the game itself. There was a pool hall that was right in the community called Johnson's Pool Hall, and a lot of the—


Tyler

Bernard Johnson?


King

No, the man who owned it was named Johnson, and it was right across the street from a place where I used to work as a kid, at the gas station.


Tyler

Do you recall that location?


King

Forty-third [Street] and South Central Avenue. And frequently on occasion I would go over to the pool hall, and I was a little bit too young to get in, but nobody seemed to notice, and I would go in, and we would put up small amounts of money, which back in those days I guess weren't so small, but we played for a quarter and other kind of things, and fifty cents on some occasions, and on weekends or something like that if people happened to have money, they'd play for as high as a dollar. You got to remember that was a lot of money in my day.


Tyler

You're talking about when?


King

I'm talking about a time when I was—yeah, it was clearly in the very, very early forties, maybe 1940, '41, along about that time. And I would go in, and in effect what I was doing was, I was taking on the best that they had to offer in there, and I would go in and I would— We


200
didn't really consider it any big gambling kind of situation, but I would go in and I would win a few dollars and kind of clean them out. And, of course, it was always amazing to these guys that were sort of the hustler-type group that were there, that I could come in, apparently middle-class oriented back in those days, and clean them out, and then I'd just step right out the door after it was over. With me, it was strictly a matter of going in and playing for the money and winning, and then I would leave. I never did hang around the pool hall—


Tyler

And socialize with them.


King

There was a certain amount of socialization that arises out of any type of a spirited encounter. Whether it be on the track field or whether it be baseball or football or whatever, there's a certain amount of socialization that comes out of those situations, but they never could figure out how I could play so well. And I was probably the youngest person that was in there, and I'd walk in there, win some money, and then leave, and that went on for several years. And again, they always tended to underestimate me because of the age factor, but what they didn't realize was that I had played pool for hours on end, week after week after week, again, at the YMCA, and the only difference was the environment. And I found that to be a very valuable lesson, too, that you have to learn to be


201
able to make it everywhere if you're going to make it anywhere.


Tyler

How was that valuable from that group? I mean, how did you use that elsewhere, or what type of lesson in a practical way? Could you give an example?


King

Oh yeah, first of all, it established very clearly that I could compete with those people that were supposed to be experts and supposed to be good and supposed to be the hip group as such, that I could compete with them, and that just because of the fact that they came from a so-called hip group, that it did not mean that they had extraordinary skills. And rarely did you find the situation where the twain met on those kinds of occasions. I mean, these were just two completely different oriented and directed groups, so I found that, you know, hey, I can function anyplace; it does not really matter. The thing that I must learn to do, though, is simply not to become embedded into the total kind of agenda that other folks may have, that, fine, they can go their route and I will go mine, and that, fine, there is nothing wrong at all. In fact, it might be desirable to climb up and down the ladder if you want to look at a ladder being vertical. I don't really look at the ladder as such, but only use it for purposes of other people's perception. But I have found that people to a large extent, if you try, you can get


202
along with most folk, and you can generally get your point across. So that was one of the things that made me have an ability to know that I could interact all the way across the board. A lot of the youngsters that were around the pool halls were dropouts, or they had ended up at some of the more difficult schools. I think they had a school here named Riis [High School]—


Tyler

That's when you were expelled or kicked out from the regular schools; it was an all-boys school, the next step to juvenile hall or jail.


King

That was about where it was. Well, those were the kind of guys that were to some extent hanging around the pool hall. I mean, you never found most of the regular guys. I found an ability to be able to step in and step out of those environments, and it had no personal impact on me whatsoever, because—


Tyler

They never got resentful or tried to ostracize you or anything?


King

Not at all, not at all. I've always been, I guess, which you'd [have] to put in quotes, "sort of a regular guy," but with an agenda, that's all. I never really immersed myself into anybody's agenda that I did not feel was pro-active in a positive way. When it got the other way, well, hey, I just dropped a ball and said, "Hey, this game's over for me, and I'll see you later." And it works


203
and it still has worked that I have been able to maintain rapport at all levels of this community.


Tyler

To shift back to the Dunbar Hotel, could you talk a bit about the division of labor or duties at the [hotel]? You know, how each family member did and what was the consequence or significance about that. Some of the experiences surrounding the Dunbar jobs.


King

The hotel was always a first and a second and a third job for every member of the family, depending upon what else they had to do. There was always this commitment to serve the entity, because the entity itself was so significant as far as a discussion point for the future of blacks, in particular on the West Coast, but actually looking all across America. Many of the discussions that went on at the hotel level were very important. Now, there were always people that were coming to the hotel that were there for purposes of delivering papers. It was the elitest of the black, as far as the educators were concerned, and, of course, in many instances that was the place and the area where whatever it was that they were going to do would occur. The Elks Club was close, the Masons were close, most of the facilities where blacks would congregate, recognizing the many, many limitations that were out there. So one of the things that we had to do, for instance, was to relate to the people who came


204
in. I can remember, I guess, 1940, '41, the Nicholas kids [Harold and Fayard] came to town—


Tyler

The black tap dancers.


King

Right, and it was just tossed over to me that one of the things that I should do was to just sort of go around with them so that I could give them some direction about the town and other kinds of things. And at that time they had a limo, and limos were virtually unknown in terms of blacks having many limos, but it was up to me to show them the area, and, fine, I did. The area as I knew the area. Which was just fine; it worked out just great. There were other young folk—


Tyler

What did you do? Just show them the physical, just drive them around, show them things? Did you go to cafes, clubs?


King

Well, we went out to a couple of the beaches, Santa Monica, where swimming was available, down to Long Beach, where the rides and other kinds of things were.


Tyler

Was it called the New Pike then?


King

I think it was; that was the name of it. Generally to introduce them to some of my peer group that was, you know, in the community; they were very young, and so was I at that time.


Tyler

About how old were they? Fifteen? Sixteen then?


King

Probably just about the same age as I was, and that


205
would throw them about sixteen, something like that, maybe a little over sixteen. I think the older brother, Fayard, was a little bit older, he was a couple of years older than Harold. That type of situation, those responsibilities were tossed to me, and whenever parents would come out and they would bring someone about my age, well, it was up to me to participate in that social kind of activity in addition to everything else that I did. It was interesting, and, of course, many of the young folk that I met at that particular time, I have run back into in future life, and it was a cornerstone in terms of some level of projection. It took a lot of the mysticism, too, out of the fact that some people had big names, but yet their concerns were just about the same as everybody else's were at that time, and that was—


Tyler

Could you name some of those people and how you—


King

I'm trying to think of a young mathematician out of Chicago. I can't remember that young man's name to save my life. He graduated from the University of Chicago when he was sixteen years old or something like that. Oh god, he was one of the— And [I] met with him, and he was just as ordinary as anyone else. The only thing is that he could add. [laughter] He was into the theory of relativity and all those kind of things, and we were both trying to make our way through algebra, most of us were trying to make our


206
way through algebra. And later on, when I was at Tuskegee, and he was no more than twenty years old, I guess, he was teaching in the air force at Tuskegee Institute. So, fine, he turned out to be one of my instructors—and I guess it was probably navigation or something like that, I've forgotten exactly what it was—but that was a good meeting that arose out of it.


Tyler

Then, what was the benefit of that at Tuskegee? What did that mean in terms of he teaching and you being a student there?


King

Well, I think one of the things that it made me concern myself with was the need for formal education. Formal education, then, I began to give more consideration to at that particular point. Here's a person who has gone through this formal education, and he really didn't seem a lot different than the rest of us, except that he had a greater ability to concentrate on the things that he was doing. And I thought that concentration, then, was something that arose out of that, and I said, "Hey, look, if somebody else can do these things, I can do them as well or better." So the fact that he was at genius level simply meant to me that he had greater concentration on what it was that he had to do. I just felt that I could do whatever the task happened to be, that I'd be able to concentrate on it and I'd be able to complete it. Later


207
days, I found that those kinds of axioms did help, that they became sort of a trademark with me, that I pretty well had taken the position that I can climb any hill, wherever it is, if I have the motivation to do so and if I feel that there are going to be some rewards at the top of that hill, in terms of the rewards the way I feel that my needs are. And, of course, the dominant thing is my family and my community, in terms of my own needs. Obviously, you have economic needs, but if you can maintain a sufficient amount of cash flow, you can make the other things come into place.


Tyler

Now, did you not have a commitment yourself or your family that you had expected to go to college, or did you have some other perception about what you were going to do?


King

Well—


Tyler

Just say, this gave you a greater or a whole new perception about formal training?


King

I think that I was divided in one sense, that I felt that I wanted to go into business, and I hadn't really given much thought about what business it would be. Because I've always felt I'd look around and see what the opportunity might be in order to survive, but that I definitely just wanted to go into business on my own. I've always felt that was the way you make a living, and formalized education was always important in that you


208
simply had to track what you do to get degrees, and you could still stay on the dual track of satisfying the necessary things to learn whatever it is that you happen to be about. You can just as easily take formal courses at an accredited university as you can continuous random courses, and they will do both, and that I had a clear perception of. The thing to do is to take the formalized courses that were on the track that I was interested in, rather than simply going to every seminar and to every weekend situation that were to come up. If you wanted to do those on an ad hoc basis, that's fine. But, basically, most of the time when you go to a school, you should have something that is degree oriented, especially if you are at a point where you've begun your family and you've got wife and kids and other kinds of things, that it needed a dual track. I have told many, many people about that, but there's still, I guess, the attitude that folks should just go out and take licensure courses and those kinds of things, and I've always felt the thing to do is to take the general courses. Then when you get ready to go and take an examination, then go take the licensure course. You'd need that anyway, but if you're going to learn something, try to learn it well.


Tyler

You had a very practical approach to education, as a tool, something you could use right away.


King

Absolutely. I wanted to be able to use it the same


209
day that I got it.


Tyler

Would you say you had pretty much an apprenticeship approach to life, that you were actually with the hotel, pretty much working and having experiences that were competing with the formal approach to education, going whole hog for the degree?


King

Yes.


Tyler

Actually, did the war disrupt your educational process if you [had gone] right after high school?


King

Well, I guess the war did interrupt it, but the war was real, and everybody had to begin to think in those kinds of terms. I mean, it wasn't the kind of situation that you could disregard. You had no choice but to think about it. Now, you may think that, hey, "I would not like to be involved in the war"; you may think, "I would like to be involved," or at what level and other kind of situations. I've always kind of felt that you could be on top and you could also be popular too. There were a lot of people who used to run around saying, "Well, I don't want to be an officer, because if I'm an officer that'll take me away from the regular people that are there." Well, I've always felt, hey, you can be at the top and—if there is such a thing as top—but, anyway, you can be at one end of a scale, and you can still relate all up and down that scale to whatever extent that you choose.



210
Tyler

What kind of people would say that? Some of your peer people?


King

Yeah, a lot of people would say they wouldn't want to be officers, that they would rather be—


Tyler

You mean your peer-group people, associates, or people after you got there?


King

Recognizing that I was moving in a business circle and with the youngsters coming out that had business parents and all the whole gamut, I was pretty well covered. And there were a lot of people who simply just said, "Well, look, I don't want to be an officer. I don't want to have that kind of responsibility," and other things. And, of course, it was always the situation of officers giving the commands and being supposedly not able to fraternize, you know, with other folks. Of course, I found out when I became an officer that they had a lot of levels and tiers in that. You still weren't associating with that many people above; there was nothing sacrosanct about being a second lieutenant, for instance, and there wasn't anybody listening to you above you or below you.


Tyler

Were there any racial factors involved in that type of attitude?


King

Well, you know, there again, I came into a fixed situation. I mean, the racist situation was out there. It was there. I made up my mind I was going to do what I


211
could in order to promote integration. I was very much pro-integration; I very much was anti the segregated situation. But given all those things, when you are in the armed services, there are a lot of restraints on what you can do, and those restraints are very acute in a number of ways. You got to do your studying, you got to pass those courses. I don't care what your attitude is, you've got to be able to compete, and you've got to be able to come through the processes that are set up. Some of those processes may seem nonsense to people, but a lot of people endured them and went through them. An example would be the hazing and the kind of things that you go through when you go into cadet school. I remember the first day that I was there, they cut all my hair off, and they sit you down and they shout at you and call you all kind of names: "You're a dummy-this and a dummy-that." Dummy was the term that we used. But it was only a matter of six, eight months, and all of a sudden I was an upperclassman. And here we were cutting off somebody else's hair, so—and talk about dehumanizing and all those other kind of things. Well, hey, that's the process. I don't know whether it accomplishes anything or not, but hazing had gone on and has been a tradition. Hazing got out of line in a few instances, but, by and large, it did tend, I think, to improve people as long as it did not get too far out of
212
hand. I certainly took my blows when I went in, and I think that I delivered a few blows.


Tyler

Was this for black officers, the hazing?


King

These were just upperclassmen.


Tyler

Oh, okay.


King

Rarely did you even get a shot at being far enough away from the group so an officer could get to you. It was the upperclassmen that were doing it. But again, as I say, it was only a short time before I had endured and I became an upperclassman. So fine, there was a good learning experience out of the hazing situation. You know, it became necessary— For instance, we were down at Tuskegee and a friend of mine that I had grown up [with] in this town, [S.] Wendell Green, was an upperclassman of mine, and Wendell used to always tell me, "Look, I'm going to protect you from everyone." And his perception of protection was to put me under the table while he would eat his lunch or breakfast or dinner, and I would stay under the table until he had finished, and then he would say, "Okay, you can come out." [laughter]


Tyler

Tell me this, were you drafted, or you joined?


King

I volunteered.


Tyler

Was there any particular reason you volunteered? To avoid anything? Or why did you volunteer?


King

Well, it was inevitable, of course, that everybody


213
was going to go in. It was a question of whether or not you were going to go in and do something of your choice, or simply go in and get on the roulette wheel and not know where you would spin out. Well, most of the youngsters that were going into the service would wind up in the army and would generally wind up in the desert someplace or whatever. I wouldn't have minded even going in the army if I could have been assured that I would be able to fly the army aircraft. You know, it may surprise a lot of people, but the army has more aircraft than the air force has.


Tyler

What, then?


King

Then, you got to remember that the air force went through its process too; it was first with the Signal Corps, then with the army, and then ultimately emerged, so the army itself had always—not always, but for a long period of time—had been involved as far as flying was concerned. And, of course, they had the little, small aircraft, which were used for observation. With me at that particular point, I just wanted to be a pilot. You know, I looked at those smaller aircraft, and I said, "Well, the smaller aircraft are fine, but there is no school that is available to send blacks," and everything was segregated at that point, so I had to go for the Tuskegee route.


Tyler

And that was attached—was that air force, or was that Army Air Corps, or what?



214
King

It started out army air force and ultimately ended up air force. Started out Army Air Corps, and then it moved to its own separation.


Tyler

By the end of the war?


King

Oh, yeah, by the end of the war. During the war it moved to its own separate entity. From our standpoint, we just knew what that really meant; it meant that the politics at the top, that the air force would have a better shot at the allocation of dollars and other kinds of things, because, of course, you know, in the services, there is always, like everyplace else, there is competition for the dollar, and the more dollars that you are able to get, the better [the] aircraft, the better the training.


Tyler

Did the war present an opportunity for you to fly that you think you never would have had otherwise?


King

It was the only opportunity that I would have had to be able to fly at that kind of a level. For instance, back in those days, it used to cost [in] the neighborhood of twenty-five thousand dollars for them to send a person through flying school.


Tyler

Twenty-five thousand dollars?


King

Yeah, now today it may very well be half a million, but the rolling stock that they were using at that time was comparatively small. But when you recognize that, you know, schools like USC [University of Southern California]


215
were charging eighteen dollars a unit, and if you take a look at what they're charging now, which is fifteen times that amount, you get some idea of what twenty-five thousand dollars was like on today's market.

And the answer is no, there would have been no way for me to have had the flying experience that I had. Of course, later when I got in, I recognized that the way to go was to be hopeful that I would be able to get into the twin-engine section, because I wanted to be able to deal with multiple engines. I was very competitive. I mean, whatever was the toughest, seemed to me has always attracted me. I mean, I guess I like to win, but I guess I like the tough battles. And if it isn't really challenging, and even carry with it certain risk overtones and other kinds of things, I generally kind of pass on it. I mean, I just like the tough ones. I get a real thrill out of winning, and losing doesn't bother me.


Tyler

Why? Because you're going to try again? Now, what did you actually do in the war? Where were you stationed? Where did you go? What were your experiences?


King

Well—


Tyler

And observations, I guess.


King

The first thirteen months were spent in the training program. We spent a month going to sort of get ourselves in shape, and that was in Biloxi, Mississippi, which is


216
really a beautiful place, but it also had some of the hardest-line segregation you could imagine. I mean, getting a hamburger meant that you went to the side window and you got a hamburger. You did not go in the front door, most of the places. The area down there right on the bay, it was really, really beautiful. The only thing I saw of it was when I went in to the train station, and we rode in a bus which carried us through this nice area, and we ended up at Keesler Field. If I was turned on—and it was on a scale of one to ten—about flying, that did it, that ran it to a hard ten at the top, because there I could sit and I watched those planes, those fighter planes taking off, and the other kind of aircraft taking off. And I just made up my mind so resolute that the only thing I was going to focus on, just absolutely nothing else, the only thing I was going to focus on, was to become a good pilot. And I had to get myself in shape like everyone else. I remember when we, a month later, we moved up to Tuskegee, and when we got up there, we used to run around the field for our gym period, and around the field was nine miles, and I can remember that probably 75 percent of the people would drop out when we first got there. And I remember like a year later, when we used to go to—of course, now you got to remember, half of the people were washed out by that time—[laughter]



217
Tyler

A big washout rate?


King

Oh, yeah, tremendous.


Tyler

What would be the main washout reasons?


King

I think the main washout reason was that people did not learn a skill fast enough. You had to learn within the time frame of the air force. Many, many instances: a person, if they had just been given a couple of more hours in terms of training, would have been able to survive and would have ended up graduating as a pilot, but they give you X number of minutes to learn a maneuver. If you don't learn that maneuver timely, you've had it. Technically, they were required to give three opportunities. You first failed with your own instructor, and then you would be given two other opportunities. But I can remember sometimes when the third opportunity would come up, the only thing they would do would be to take off and land, and that would be it. So actually, you really had one chance to win, and if you ever got on that down spiral, you could pretty well pack your bags.

Now, the rate of washout in those classes is generally determined by the number of people that start out in the class, meaning into the flying school, and the number of people you end up with that graduate. The reality is that it's really more like twice that number, because they wash out a lot of people before they ever get off the ground.


218
So in my class we started out with sixty-two people that actually went into the flying school, but we had really had more like a hundred and twenty that were really involved from the time that, say, we hit Keesler Field to the time that we half dropped out, between the time that you went into the service and did your sort of pre-flight kind of situations. Half of them just simply got wiped out. [Something] as minor as being color-blind would wipe you out, as minor as depth perception could wipe you out. Just very, very small things. They were only looking for the people that pretty well could pass every test on a consistent basis.

I know that, when I went in, I was fairly political at that particular point. The class elected its own officers (they weren't appointed), and I was elected by my class because I had campaigned for it, and I was elected adjutant, which was the number two spot. It was kind of interesting, because I don't think people were really that political back in those days. They were always looking for the person that somebody else had acknowledged, meaning if they had athletic abilities and other kinds of things, and they had been making the school paper, or they played on the basketball team. Well, I didn't do any of those things; I was just political.


Tyler

Political in what sense?



219
King

Political in the sense that I knew that I needed a certain number of votes to become either the adjutant— I wanted to be up at the top of the class as far as class activities were concerned, so when I ran I came out second, and I became the adjutant of the class. This was out of the sixty-two people or so that we had; I was number two at that particular point. In terms of being elected, you had a cadet captain. Now, later on, during that period of time, I was knocked down from cadet captain—I'm sorry, from cadet adjutant—which really meant that I controlled half of the class. It was divided into a morning and an afternoon; one group went to the flight line in the morning, the other one went to school, and then they reversed in the afternoon, and they put me in charge then. However, at one point along the line, I got demoted and thrown back to a private inside of the class, and that wasn't too unusual, because it was almost done at the whim of individuals. This was done because of the fact that I had an automobile down there and my automobile had been seen driving around in town. [There] was not technically anything wrong with it, because we were on our honor-type situation and we could pretty well go and come as long as we did the right kind of things. But they had certain days for blacks to go into the town, and I was in the town on a day when it wasn't the black day, in a sense. And, of


220
course, the blacks could use the bowling alley one night a week. They had set up some accomodation kind of things, as far as the little town was concerned and the people at Tuskegee. So those kind of restrictions didn't mean too much to me, but, anyway, my car was seen in town, so the officer who was handling it just demoted me. So I looked at it like hey, I'm back as a private, okay. I had made up my mind: I said, "Look, fine, there's nothing I can do about it; I'm not going to get washed out of the air force over some nonsense like this," so I just stayed right on my course, and ultimately when my class graduated, I was cadet captain. Now, I knew then—and that proves something to me too—that you can work your way up, because first I went up politically; the second time I went up by working my way up, so I had dual experiences and never had a day of a problem as far as flight school was concerned, never had a problem.


Tyler

Now, were the cadets there outraged about the segregation and the town conditions? Did any incident occur that caused some upheaval or potential problems, or actual?


King

Not a lot of them, given that the Tuskegee influence, the rewards were so great and the possibilities clear down there, until people were pretty well on an upward-bound mobility approach. And just to think, for


221
instance, that you'd be able to fly this quarter-of-a-million-dollar aircraft around was enough motivation for you to kind of disregard some of the other things that were going on.

The second thing is all those things were fixed; they were fixed in that blacks had been exposed to segregation all their lives, and we knew that there were a lot of things that were changing that had not changed. In fact, we were in a change atmosphere itself, because blacks had never flown aircraft for the armed services. So we kind of felt that, hey, look, if we go out and we do well, then we will be a model, and this will help everything.


Tyler

So you saw yourselves as the vanguard.


King

Clearly.


Tyler

That you had more opportunities than disabilities, would you say?


King

We had nothing but opportunities and very few disabilities. You really didn't have a lot of time to get involved in too many other things. Your time was really very, very heavily consumed.


Tyler

So you certainly didn't feel imposed on?


King

No.


Tyler

Wendell Green felt imposed on, your colleague. I've heard that he railed against the segregation army. So he didn't seem to take to it very well.



222
King

Wendell and I came off the same splinter, and I did too, but not while I was going through cadet school. You cannot; you don't have a sufficient amount of discretionary time when you're going through cadet school. He actually began to show those things; he showed them before he went into the service, and he showed them after he became an officer. But when he went through as a cadet, you don't have time to engage in all of those things unless you simply want to self-sacrifice. So Wendell, I would say, clearly was one of the brightest persons that I have ever known, and we have been very, very close friends. We have not always been on the same side of issues, but we are still friends after all of these years.


Tyler

Were you aware that A. Philip Randolph and his march on Washington movement protested black exclusion from war-plant jobs, a segregated military? Were you aware of that, or had any reactions to that?


King

We certainly were, and we favored those kind of changes at almost all levels. There is a real plus that we had going in the earlier years, and that is that we had a fellow by the name of Judge Hastie who was our advocate.


Tyler

William [H.] Hastie, right?


King

Right.


Tyler

Actually, he was an assistant to the war department, Newton D. Baker.



223
King

Okay, right.


Tyler

But, anyway, he eventually resigned.



224

Tape Number: VI, Side Two
June 1, 1985

King

Well, Hastie was our advocate in that he had been— He was without question one of the finest black Americans who ever lived. He was a person who was a brilliant advocate, and ultimately he did resign from his position, because he was unable to move us more into the mainstream. I think that if he made any mistakes at all in his life, and that is that he should not have resigned, because after he resigned, we picked up a fellow out of Chicago (and I think Hastie was from Chicago, too), we picked up a guy out of Chicago—


Tyler

I think he was from Florida.


King

No, he was from Chicago. His father was president of an insurance company there.


Tyler

Oh, okay, whatever.


King

He ultimately went into boxing afterwards; he was a boxer promoter after the war. But, anyway, he was not treated with the same level of respect that Hastie was, and I don't know that his commitment was any less, but his effectiveness and his voice—it was Truman [K.] Gibson [Jr.]—was not felt at our level. This is nothing personal against Truman, but he was a young lawyer at that time out of Chicago.


Tyler

Just personality and ability or whatever it is.



225
King

Yeah, and he was just not able to effectively cause anything; well, maybe, "anything" is an overstatement, but from where I was, my perception was that there were no eloquent arguments that were done on our behalf; the result was basically inactivity.


Tyler

When did Hastie resign? `Forty-three? [`Forty-] four?


King

Probably in '44. Yeah, probably in the latter part of '44 is when he resigned. Not that Truman Gibson was not a nice guy and a brilliant fellow in his own way, but maybe it had just hardened to a point where there was no opportunity for him, you know, and—


Tyler

Hastie, that's why he resigned; he couldn't get any more response. There were about five thousand black pilots in World War II, right?


King

Nine hundred ninety-two.


Tyler

That was the grand total?


King

That was the total who went through the program.


Tyler

But I mean around the whole country, during the whole war, weren't there about five thousand black pilots?


King

Nine hundred ninety-two.


Tyler

Was the maximum.


King

That was the number of graduates that there were during World War II.


Tyler

So just one thousand, which was actually a very


226
small number compared to what, the tens of thousands of white pilots, right?


King

Yes, and forty years later, as we sit here, I just received a note from a friend of mine, Clovis Jones, who used to fly for one of the airlines here on the coast.


Tyler

Was his name Close?


King

Clovis Jones.


Tyler

Oh, okay.


King

Clovis was a pilot with, let's see, you got, not PSA, Western, and what's the other, Cal, one of the airlines that flies up and down the coast.


Tyler

California, I don't know. [Air California]


King

Well, they advertise quite a bit, but I guess their advertising isn't effective. [laughter] But, anyway, the national black pilots, commercial pilots, are having their meeting in I think it's Memphis, Tennessee, and they want to present an acknowledgement award to some of the Tuskegee airmen, and he gave me a call and then formalized it by writing a letter. Today, out of forty-four thousand commercial pilots actively making a living—I better underline that, a good living as pilots—there are only 250 blacks, and this is forty years after the noble experiment in connection with black pilots, where supposedly we crushed the idea that blacks cannot fly. So I'm not too sure how much progress we're making, or how you want to


227
measure [it].


Tyler

What about the military now, you have no idea?


King

The idea of pilots in the military, I don't have an answer on. I think I will try to find out where we are on that.


Tyler

I guess we could write the war department.


King

Well, I should be able to get the answer with one phone call. I'm still a little bit active in the military.


Tyler

So that that group, as you said, had a very vanguard attitude and positive attitude about that. Were there other experiences that you had— I mean, where were you ultimately stationed? Did you go into combat? What happened to most of the Tuskegee people? What did they do?


King

Well, initially, of course, there was the very famed Ninety-ninth pursuit squadron.


Tyler

Were you part of that?


King

No, no, that was the first group that went through, and a squadron's a very, very small entity. Like, for instance, I think the first class that went through Tuskegee, five people graduated.


Tyler

That's all?


King

They were brutal on them.


Tyler

Now, the instructors were white and everything, right?



228
King

Yes.


Tyler

Was there ever any suspicion that there were conscious plots to limit the black graduates?


King

I think that, although an unusual situation occurred, I think that first it was just, "Let us sit these blacks down here: they don't have it, they can't do it, but let's put this program together in Tuskegee." And then they set about turning it over to some different people who said, "Well, we're going to make it really, really tough on blacks, and we're going to eliminate every one that we possibly can," which, when you analyze it, if you eliminate almost every one that you can, what you have left are the strong and the pure at heart and the best. And they set up a screening system, so what they were doing was, as they screened all these folks out, the people that got through were absolutely the top of the line. You could get washed out for anything; I mean, I imagine if you had dirt under your fingernails. So they got the best in terms of academic abilities, they got the best— This is no disparity now on other people, but of those who applied, they just screened them out. It was even difficult to get into the air-force kind of situation and become a prospect. You had to take a written examination in your hometown in order to—or not necessarily your hometown, but wherever they were giving it, which was generally the


229
largest urban center. In my case, it was in my hometown, which was here in Los Angeles. They had to get over that hurdle, and they set up so many hurdles until the classes that they ultimately turned out probably, if you had measured them against the white class that turned out, that probably you would have found that the blacks were far superior by any of the standards that were used to judge.


Tyler

Now, did you have the same flying equipment as whites, or did you have inferior, or normative flying machines?


King

It was the same as theirs. No difference in the machines; all the planes were the same planes. Now, different places would have different planes, but, by and large, you would have to say that the planes that we were flying were about the same as the other planes. We had the old P-40's initially, when they would graduate, and ultimately they went up from P-40's to P-39's to P-47's, and then ultimately to the very famed Mustang. So they flew equipment that was reasonable, given the light of the circumstances. The P-40, of course, was a tough one to fly, but, nevertheless, that was the number one plane at the beginning of the war. That was the plane they used to fly over China, those kinds of things.


Tyler

So where did you go when you finished school, and most of the other people? Where did you serve?



230
King

As I mentioned, the 99th was the first group, and then after that they put together a group that was the 332d. Now the 332d was a group; a group consists of four of the squadrons, and that meant they had to put three more together, and then the 99th, and ultimately that made up the 332d fighter group. They also decided that it was a good idea to come up with composite groups; composite group was a theory that was put together in the air force, and that meant that it would have some bombers, some medium bombers, and fighters, so that they could work together as an integral unit. And they would be more effective when they had to go out, rather than bring two groups together, the fighters over here and the bombers over here, to make them composite groups.

So the idea was to put together a composite group—it was called the 477th—and that composite group required then that they have some twin-engine medium bomber pilots. We didn't have any particular control over whether or not we would be bomber pilots or be fighter pilots, but I decided there was more commercial advantage to being a bomber pilot. One of the criterias that they used was height, because, at that time they were flying, fighters were kind of small and cramped up, so that the taller you were—there's a lot more room inside of, say, B-25's than there was in a P-39; [in a] P-39, you were really just


231
squeezed in there from wall to wall—so the taller people (now I was not fully aware of that until shortly before the selection was made), but the taller people, and that doesn't mean seven-foot type like basketball players, but the taller group basically went into the twin engine, and the other people went into the fighters. And it was also the imagery of fighter pilots being small, or at least smaller in that kind of situation. So I ended up going with the bomber group, and the first thing that happened was I went to bomber transition; that transition training was in Mather Field in Sacramento, and I was absolutely delighted about that, because that threw me into—


Tyler

That was Major Field, you said?


King

Mather. That threw me back into California, and we had a ten-week training program in Sacramento. I went through that period up there with virtually no difficulty as far as flying was concerned. One of the reasons is that I just believed in heavy, heavy concentration. I can remember that we would get weathered in two or three mornings a week, and, instead of sitting around playing checkers or whatever when the fog was down low and we couldn't take off, or when it was raining, I would go out and sit in the B-25's and blindfold myself and have someone simply read off the instruments to me, and I would just reach out and touch the instruments. Now, in those days,


232
there were 103 instruments, and I knew where every one of them [was], completely blindfolded. I mean, I could just reach out and touch them. Now, this was a required situation, but I don't think anybody could touch them as fast as I could or knew exactly where they were and never made a mistake. And why, I'll tell you, was because I did it a thousand times. I sat in there and had somebody read them off on a random basis, and I would reach and touch each one of those instruments, so that when I did fly, if I had to think about, hey, what's the cylinder head temperature in my right engine, I mean all I had to do was the thought in my mind, and, zip, my eyes were right on the gauge. I knew that, so I became probably one of the better pilots because I worked at it harder. It wasn't a deficiency, it was just that I knew that if you spend the time and if you work, it will provide the rewards. I was beginning clearly to feel very good about myself, very good about my flying ability. I had picked up the kind of patience that is required for long flights, all of those kinds of things. I was able to concentrate while nothing was happening, when you're simply sitting in the aircraft. And I flew the plane a lot more. For instance, we had automatic pilots that you could put on and those kind of things. Well, I didn't use the automatic pilot that much in relation to other pilots. I'd actually fly
233
the plane, and I got to the point where I was just absolute perfection on the flying of a B-25, eyes open, eyes closed, whatever it was, I could do it. That aircraft became a part of me as much as my right arm. I knew every inch of it.


Tyler

Now, did you ever, during the war, go overseas, or were you ultimately stationed here?


King

Okay, we— Well, let me mention one incident that really fired me back up into, I guess, the rights movement again. I knew I was doing a good job, and I knew that I was a good pilot and a good member of the armed services. One morning I was in the mess hall, the officers' mess hall at Mather Field, and General [Ralph P.] Cousins came by (and, by the way, at that point I had only seen one general in my life, and that was B. [Benjamin] O. Davis, Sr., who came down to visit his son [Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.] at Tuskegee), and I was very, very just pleased and elated that I was even going to be in a room where General Cousins was going to be. I was there, and I had my breakfast, and the general made a few remarks, you know.

The following day I was called into the commanding officers' section, and they sat me down, and I was told that General Cousins had left an order that no blacks were to eat in the officers' mess hall. Well, I had to think about that just a little bit. It bothered me almost more


234
than anything. I said, hey, you know, I have proved everything.


Tyler

Plus, you were just so respectful towards him.


King

Never met him personally. He saw me in the mess hall. I never even had an opportunity to shake his hands or to do the salute, nothing, and I was an officer, and I just didn't believe that it was going to happen. I just couldn't conceive that that had happened, but I got the message, and from there through the balance of that ten weeks (I guess we were about two-thirds of the way through it), every morning for breakfast, those black officers that were up there that were pilots, we had to go to the PX [post exchange], and they would send one person to the PX early and then—this is Sacramento, California, 1944; in fact, May of 1944—and there we were with our officers' uniforms on, generally getting ready into flying uniforms, standing at the side of the post exchange, while they would hand breakfast out to us. And the realization then hit me squarely that something had to be done to improve this society, because after accomplishing everything that they said that blacks could not accomplish, it simply did not mean enough that we could not even as much sit down in the same mess hall and eat. And it was not the officers who were there, not the other people taking the training; to them it was a nonissue. I mean, we had achieved something;


235
they were pleased to have achieved, and we were pleased to have achieved. But when that situation occurred, I think it really shook me back to where I was, where I had been, my whole thoughts, all the way across that one. I said, "This country has got to change; that's all there is to it," and from that point on, that was a major integral part of almost every decision that I made: that I wanted this to be a better country, a better opportunity for people. Certainly the situation of going to war for a country, and the country reflecting itself certainly through what I regarded as a very highly prestigious person, a general, coming through there and making that kind of order. He really just— I drew the line at that particular point. I'm going to do whatever it is that I can, and I think that possibly to some extent that that was really one of the turning points in terms of my thought pattern.


Tyler

You still maintained discipline, though, didn't you?


King

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. If discipline became the key factor, you know, I mean, we could get violations and be brought in for summary situations about flying, you know: you're flying too low, you stayed out too long, you came in too hot on the runway, you know, all those kinds of things, which was like a coaching kind of situation. But as far as basic discipline was concerned, yes, no problem


236
on that, no problem on that.


Tyler

So what was the consequence of the training at Mather Field? Where did you go on from there?


King

Well, it made me, in effect, an accredited, established pilot of B-25's; we had checked out, I've forgotten how many hours we did on them, but it was quite a few. We stayed there for this two-months-plus period of time, so my level of competency was there. Then, we, of course, didn't have enough pilots at that particular point to really put the group together, but there was need for us, and we knew that there was need for us, but, politically, the decision had been made not to have black units and white units flying together. So then, you know, months would go by, and they had overseas training programs. We went to Fort Knox to a field that was at Fort Knox; it was a World War I fighter field—very, very short runway. It was called Godman Field [Godman Air Force Base]. Godman Field was not designed for aircraft as large as B-25's; it was designed for small fighter craft, and that was the place they decided to put us. It didn't do a single thing, except sharpen us up even more. I mean, I can remember days when I would work in the tower. You'd have one day every period of time, maybe like once a month you'd be the officer in charge and you'd be responsible for the tower and everything, and I would go up in the tower and I'd


237
watch those guys land, and they'd land right on the numbers. If you ever fly, you will see that there are numbers on the end of each runway. Actually, what those numbers are, are part of the compass, and if it says 45, it means that you're landing— If you can imagine, let's take a compass that says, and the runway says 90, well, that 90 would be like 90 degrees of the 360 degrees on a compass, and you would be landing directly east, so that's what those numbers mean; and the numbers are generally spaced near the end of the runway. Well, those black pilots would drop those B-25's in right on the numbers every time. There were two reasons: number one, you couldn't miss far or you would wind up crashing at the end of the runway. The runways were incredibly short; that's where they put us. No way in the world that they would have put any other group—


Tyler

So certainly they were trying to provoke you; they certainly were trying to limit the success or whatever of pilots.


King

And all it did was make them sharper; that's the only thing that it did.


Tyler

So how long did you stay there in Fort Knox?


King

We stayed around Louisville for a number of months, and I guess what they finally figured was, well, that field was really not made for these medium bombers, and besides


238
that, there have been no accidents, there have been no problems, so I guess it doesn't matter. So then they moved us to a field up in Indiana, one at Columbus, Indiana, and then another one at Seymour, which was in that area where we had long runways, you know, and we could take off.


Tyler

Was this still training?


King

Well, you see, they weren't sending us overseas, even though we were ready—


Tyler

Because they couldn't put a group together?


King

I think it was basically because of the fact that the original concept was to put a composite group together, number one. But, number two, even though there was a need and they could have broken that bubble and used these competent pilots, it would have meant integration.


Tyler

So they'd rather not; they just had you going from field to field, training or whatever.


King

I went through the overseas training program three times. Any ordinary white pilot that had gone through overseas training once would have been on their way overseas. Three times. Now, ultimately, they sent pilots in who had been second pilots flying B-25's in the Pacific, and they would send them in because they had done their tour of duty over there. They'd send them back to the States, and these pilots then would be assigned to go and work with people taking the overseas training program.


239
Well, they would send these guys who were veterans, who had put quite a bit of time overseas, and send them where we were, and there wasn't a single thing they could teach us. We knew it, not a single thing. And the white pilots that they would send to train us who had had the overseas experience, they would just throw up their hands and say, "Hey, these guys have got it; they know it." So we flew, just going through those training maneuvers, three times as long as the ordinary white pilots.


Tyler

Because they would not rotate you overseas for combat.


King

That is correct.


Tyler

So then after the war, when the war ended, did people remain in those units, or were they dispersed, or were you demobilized, or what?


King

Well, when the war was over, first came, of course, the situation in Europe, and then we were just pretty convinced that there was going to be a good possibility that we'd be able to get a chance to show our wares, you know. And, of course, as that diminished, and then there was going to be this major transfer that was going to go to the Pacific, well, we figured with all of our guys coming back that we would end up, you know, being able to get out and sort of do our combat number. I really don't know of many black pilots who at any time voiced any opposition to


240
flying overseas in combat. I mean, I think we knew what we were trained to do; we were not trained, and we did not go through that training experience only just to learn to fly. We did it for a purpose. You can be a prize fighter, you don't go in and do training not to fight.


Tyler

[laughter] You train to go at it.


King

That is—


Tyler

But they did that with the ground soldiers. They kept them out of fighting; they got them into construction or fortifications or unloading supplies—who were trained for combat—and they just did it on ground and air, terribly wasteful. Anyway.


King

The problems that occurred as a result of some of that segregation were very serious in terms of the overtones.


Tyler

What were they?


King

Well, I think the fact that at one time there were roughly a hundred black officers under arrest, which is the largest group of officers in the history of this country that have ever been under arrest at one time, and it was all about going in a white officers' club. I mean, it was absolutely nothing, and what had happened was, we just no longer were going to take it, and that was it, and fine—


Tyler

So wait a minute, is it that towards the end of the war that black morale—you know, this was just too much?



241
King

Well, I think black morale was falling, no question about it, it was falling; the opportunity for advancement was extremely restricted. I think by the time the war was over in the European and African theaters, I think it was perfectly clear that there was not a big future as far as the air force was concerned with blacks.

One of the moves that I made was to go up to Chicago, which was only a couple of hundred miles from where we were stationed, and there I went to and applied for my commercial license, because I was thinking of commercial overtones, you know, after the war was over. I did go in, I did take the examination. I passed the examination, which was very, very simple for me, because it was basically about the regulatory situations, and because I was a pilot and because of the fact that I was flying on a frequent basis, I did not have to take any actual flying situations. All I had to do was to take the written, and I picked up a commercial pilot's license. A number of other people, and I kind of led the way on that situation, I said, "Hey, look, go in and take it now, because they are not requiring you to do any flying." Of course, any of these people would have passed the flying too. We did it as a vocation on a daily basis, but I picked up that commercial ticket. Of course, the ticket was never worth the paper that it was written on, because there were no


242
potential employers.


Tyler

Why?


King

They did not use blacks as commercial pilots. There were no blacks in America that were flying people; there were none that I knew of that were even flying freight. They simply would not use black pilots.


Tyler

So then what happened with this group? Were they able to stay into these units, stay into the Air Corps, or air force, or did they have to demobilize and became reservers or inactive or what?


King

They did demobilize, and, of course, that applied to all units after the war, or just generally across the board. And what happened with our group was people went on back—and most were young—a lot of them went back to finish their education. A number of them did; some became quite renowned: there was Bumps Coleman, William T. Coleman, Jr. You may have heard of him, out of Philadelphia. He was the secretary of transportation under Ford, and that was President [Gerald R.] Ford, but today he works for Ford. He works for Ford Motor Company as chief counsel. He went on back to Harvard [University], finished his education, now, one of the guys.


Tyler

So, none or hardly any of those guys were able to stay flying militarily or commercially? [tape recorder off]



243
King

Of course, when the war was over, well, most of the people just went on back to wherever they had come from to try to put their lives together and make it work. I guess you could just mention person after person who was successful. A few stayed in, but the majority of them came out of the air force. There was no future in the air force for most. There was for a very few.


Tyler

Was it clear that you weren't welcome to stay?


King

Well, it was pretty clear that the war was over, that there wasn't much for an air force pilot to do at that particular point but to go out and deal with the rest of your life. The opportunity for going into the reserves, of course, was always there and available, but basically with white or black, it was that the war was over, and that basically you have been civilian soldiers, and now, hey—


Tyler

Now, did the whites flood at the commercial lines, and [it] was highly competitive, and they were going to exclude because they didn't need all of them, or what? Or do a lot of pilots not want to fly anymore after that?


King

It was just a matter of the fact that there were more white pilots, I guess, than there were jobs available, too, and, in addition the color line was just clear. I mean, in order to get the first commercial pilot, it took a lawsuit, and if my recollection is correct, that lawsuit was eventually filed in Denver against Continental


244
[Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission v. Continental Air Lines, Inc., 1963]. And it wasn't that Continental was any different than any other airline, it simply was that we had some black lawyers in Denver where Continental was based at that time (I don't think they're based back there now) where they took the leadership, you know, in filing. But you got to remember, back in those days, they didn't even have black hostesses on the aircrafts.


Tyler

Let alone a pilot.


King

No, there was no room in there for them, period.


Tyler

So you went into the reserves?


King

No.


Tyler

Or you automatically were in the reserves?


King

No, I just came out completely. I gave serious consideration to going in the reserves.


Tyler

So later then, you got into the California National Guard, or is that—


King

Later, I got into the California State Military Reserve, which is a part of and is controlled by the same adjutant general, meaning the commanding general that is over the National Guard is also over the State Military Reserve. So it is sort of a spin-off. In fact, at one time it was called something like the National Guard reserves. They ultimately, the people involved in the Military Reserve, wanted to have a little clearer


245
delineation as to where they were, but the name has been changed a few times in history. It was originally—you might describe it like the state militia, if you go far enough.


Tyler

In the colonial period, militia was a common word. Late in the nineteenth century, twentieth century, the National Guard—


King

It's somewhat of a National Guard reserve. The National Guard is called in on a function, and we somewhat replace the National Guard, so it's interesting, and it does have all the military overtones, but it's basically a volunteer-type organization. We have basically the same profile person that the National Guard has. Make it analagous, let us say, to a police reserve unit, and, of course, you really have some difficulty telling the difference between the policemen and the police reserves, because they are all riding in the same car, etc., and one is designed to assist the other. By example, and this is kind of jumping ahead, but I'll go back, during the Olympics, I was asked to perform certain functions, which I did, and this is really jumping maybe too far ahead, but the National Guard gave me an award at the end of the Olympics for my participation. I was quite pleased about that, of course.


Tyler

Now, what did you do after the war? Come back to


246
L.A., or what?


King

Came directly back to Los Angeles and started trying to pick up some direction. I think one of the things that I made a mistake doing was trying to do too many things in too short a period of time, and, ultimately, I found that there are reasonable limits in terms of what you can do.


Tyler

What did you come back trying to do?


King

Well, I wanted the perfect everything. I wanted the perfect family to fall into place quickly. I wanted the perfect kind of a life-style, given what could be done. I wanted to pursue occupations that would make dollars for me, and I wanted to complete my schooling; and I had a whole list, a whole laundry list of accomplishments that I wanted to put together very quickly. I soon was able to sort those out, though, and to begin to pick up a reasonable program of what's real and what's workable, and you have to sit down and make some planning.


Tyler

So what did you do on a practical level? You came home. Did you pursue a job? Did you go and get married, or what?


King

I was already married and had one son [Celestus A. IV, "Mike," King]. In fact, he was born on the day that I soloed when I was down at Tuskegee. So there again, from my standpoint, was an opportunity for me to be able to show that I had the kind of discipline that was necessary, so


247
that even when there were other factors, hey, I'd still be able to do whatever it was that I had to do. When I came back, I went into business: I opened up a small route of jukeboxes. My mother [Leontyne Butler King] had this route of jukeboxes, and she had sort of kept it going.


Tyler

How did she get into that?


King

We had a retail store, and one of the things that we sold retail was records.


Tyler

Where was this retail store at? What was the name of it?


King

It was simply a part of our liquor store. My dad [Celestus A. King, Jr.] was in the liquor business, and he had a liquor store in sort of the fringe of downtown Los Angeles, and part of it was selling records. Well, records in those days could be extremely popular, and you had to have connections and all those kinds of things to get the records, and my family had always been very well connected, pretty well at most of the levels; so, since they had the records, the jukebox thing simply became an extension of the records, and because we had all the linkage, we had them in a number of the black businesses.


Tyler

Would you say [what] you or [what] your mother did was responsible for jukeboxes spreading to black L.A.?


King

There were other people, of course, that were in the business too, and it took some financing and other things.


248
I quickly doubled the route that she had and probably increased the net on it by four times, got rid of the weaker places, made some investments, obtained credit so that I could buy the latest model boxes that were out, and those kinds of things. So I was doing very well in a very short period of time.


Tyler

Were these all black-patronized places, if not black-owned places, that you placed the boxes?



249

Tape Number: VII, Side One
June 27, 1985

Tyler

Okay, the last question on the tape was, when you sold these jukeboxes, were they predominately sold to black businesses, or places, or establishments that catered to black patrons?


King

I guess probably 90 percent of the places that I was doing business with were black owned, small entrepreneurs. There were restaurants. There were small stores. There were pool halls. They had these little donut shops, the hamburger spots. The bars, some of the bars were beer and wine places, and others were cocktail lounges. There was a considerable difference in the amount of the investment required between a wine and beer license and a cocktail, and generally the level of people that they drew, generally, was slightly different, because it cost a lot of money to involve yourself around the cocktail lounges and very little around the beer and wine. Generally, the beer and wine establishments yielded more in terms of the jukebox than the more elegantly put together cocktail lounge places.


Tyler

Why is that?


King

Well, I didn't really look at it from any sociological standpoint during those years, but I guess it was more of an outlet, it was more of a basic— Most of the


250
people that were around the beer and wine places were generally the hardworking, the guy who had to deal with his hands all day. Generally, when you got to the bars, well, you were dealing with the person who had very clean fingernails, and their activities were such that they simply didn't pick up very heavy things, and maybe their desire to emulate other cultures and other communities was more prevalent as the level of elegance of establishments moved up.

In addition, of course, there were some places that had live music, and, of course, they had the jukeboxes there, and that meant that the jukebox was always off whenever the live music was on. And they generally had most of their clientele at night, so they didn't get the long daytime exposure and action. We had a deal basically at most of those places that was like a fifty-fifty split. But, of course, competition began to get heavy, and that affected two things: it affected the quality, it affected the year, the model, of the jukebox itself. Actually, the state of the art was not moving particularly fast, but the designs were changing, so it was a matter of keeping up with the latest designs, and the more elegant places always wanted the latest jukebox. They all generally worked fairly well in terms of the money going in and the slots being fairly easy to repair, but it did take


251
a little knack, and, of course, I did what I had to do. I had to learn to repair them, and I got to the point where I was very responsive to a phone call. It didn't bother me that somebody called me at nine o'clock at night, and I had to run out and repair a jukebox. It did, I would say, kind of create a situation where I just was not completely in cement on a nine-to-five type of job; it just did not bother me any longer. It somewhat fitted me for the business that I ultimately got in, which was out of the jukebox business and into the bail bond business.


Tyler

But the kind of hourly, nightly, or whatever call, you might get—


King

Yeah, it just got to the point where it didn't bother me in the least. I just felt compelled to do whatever it was that I had to do. I did, when I came back, I went over to USC [University of Southern California] and—going back now a year or so prior to the jukebox beginning to make a good living for me—I went—


Tyler

The jukebox business then?


King

Yeah, I made a very good living.


Tyler

At what age were you now?


King

I guess I was about twenty-one, twenty-two.


Tyler

Were you living independent?


King

Oh, yeah.


Tyler

When did you move out of your parents' home?



252
King

When I went into the air force, I was, oh, about nineteen years old, maybe almost nineteen, maybe a little under that, maybe still eighteen. But that was when I moved out. I moved out as a practical matter when I went in the air force, and, of course, I never moved back into our family sort of homestead. But that was when I moved out. I enjoyed coming back, of course, after the air force days, and I was very happy that my mother [Leontyne Butler King] had started this jukebox route, because it put me in a position where I was able to earn whatever I could put out. I worked that jukebox route alone; I did not have any employees whatsoever.


Tyler

By choice, or what?


King

It was just a compelling need I think that I had to survive and to make it, and I just didn't feel that I needed anyone. I believe very much in working, and I worked from early in the morning until in the evening, and then go home, and then if I had any calls, out I would go. Now, when I went over to USC and I signed in to start school there, I think I probably made one slight error and that was that I had not fully adjusted myself. I just hadn't been here long enough swinging out of the air force. I probably should have waited one semester, but I wanted to get in at the very beginning, which was in the fall. I, at one point, had the situation of working and


253
going to school, and it turned out to be just a little bit difficult for me, so I dropped out of school for a period of time. [tape recorder off]

So I had too many things to do at that point: you know, getting the jukeboxes in order, continuing to service the program. I had to learn the mechanisms, so it was like school itself, except that I was not on the campus, but I was learning a considerable amount. I was learning how to handle these machines, and I simply did not want to pay anyone. So, fine, I learned them and I learned them well. Now, at a later point, I decided that I would go into the bail bond business, and in order to do that, well, it meant that I had to reprogram out my time, so I went to a night school and began that long, simple working all day and going to school at night. I found it much more comfortable than trying to attend a day school. The day school was just very difficult for me to handle. These machines and jukeboxes, you had to go and take the money out during the day; you could not go to these places and take money out at night, so it was imperative that I had most of my day free.


Tyler

Was that for safety reasons?


King

Well, number one, it was custom as far as the industry is concerned, and, number two, I think that there was a safety factor, but a safety factor is nothing like it


254
is today. I think it's probably just as dangerous during the day now as it is—


Tyler

Right, right, I would agree. I remember in the fifties here in L.A., my father and I went to an open trailer, or truck, and the payroll man was on the truck paying people coming to get their money. Couldn't do that now.


King

[laughter] Just handing them a piece of paper called a check would be a risk.


Tyler

Oh, cash money, payroll man right here in L.A. on a truck, just sitting there all day. You know how construction companies have trailers right on the premises to handle business and all that?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Those days are long gone.


King

That's absolutely right, and they probably, now that I think about it, I can remember those days, they didn't have security; there was no one there, except the people that were patronizing the truck, just no one there.


Tyler

You remember that?


King

Oh, yeah.


Tyler

Payroll trucks?


King

Yeah. Do it on the spot.


Tyler

What school did you go to? Well, no, you were talking about some other school you went to for bail bonds.



255
King

Well, I received an opportunity to work part-time for Dave Finley. Dave Finley was one of the early bail agents in Los Angeles, probably the, maybe the second or third or fourth black bondsman that they had in the Los Angeles area. The two that preceded him were no longer around.


Tyler

Do you recall who they were?


King

One was a fellow by the name of Murray—


Tyler

Oh, bail bondsman Murray.


King

And there was another—


Tyler

He goes back to the thirties.


King

Yeah, and there was one other guy, and his nickname was Mex; he had a Mexican appearance, and he was out of the business when I began to get involved in it. So those were the two I think that had preceded Dave Finley.


Tyler

Was his name Garcia?


King

I really don't know what Mex's name was. I just remember him as Mex, and I did know him because when I was a kid, he used to hang around the Dunbar Hotel. So it put me at a point where probably I was maybe like the, oh, sixth or seventh black that had been in the business. Most of those who had been in this business had not done that well. They had not been particularly successful in the business.


Tyler

Why was that?



256
King

Well, first of all, most of the blacks did not have what are called direct contracts. Direct contract is a contract with the insurance company or with the general agent, so, since they were really sort of subagents of agents, it meant that there was not a lot of margin in the bonds that they were handling, so they had to pay so much money in order to have the insurance company paper, because there were just too many hands between them and the source, until they were just unable to be competitive. In addition, there was a very prevalent attitude in the community that those were the people, if you had a real problem [and] you had to hire a bond, that they would be the people that would be in a position to write the larger bonds. And it meant that, basically, the black bondsmen—or bail agents, more correctly, because at one time there was a woman who had an agency, even back in those early days— It just turned out that it wasn't that profitable, because they were simply paying too much for the paper. When I came in—


Tyler

What years are you talking about now?


King

Well—


Tyler

Early fifties?


King

I started in the latter part of '48, and I think I was licensed in 1949. I worked for two and a half years for Dave Finley on a part-time basis, and during that


257
period of time I liquidated the jukebox business and—


Tyler

You liquidated it by just giving the route to someone, or selling the route, or just dropped it, or what?


King

I sold it on an individual basis. I sold the units, and sometimes I sold the units and the locations. I reduced it down to a smaller number where I had a very simple kind of a working situation, so it meant that I could do a little bit on the jukeboxes. I spent some time in school, and I worked some time part-time for Dave Finley. So with that kind of a combination, I was able to put a pretty good balance act together, and it worked out just fine. I decided that I needed to stay in school, and I needed to pick up a bachelor's, and I needed to learn a little bit more about the activities that I was involved in.

I ultimately graduated in June of 1951 from Pacific Coast University. It was a law school, and it was a four-year night program that you could finish in less than four years if you went all year, and I simply went all year. At that time, you got a bachelor's degree in law, and that was what I did. I signed up for a course, and I ended up with an LL.B., which was a Baccalaureate of Laws. By the way, today that same degree is called a J.D., which is a Doctor of Jurisprudence. In fact, at a later date some years later, when the codes had been changed and when


258
the popularity of saying doctor had increased, my school reissued all of the bachelors of laws degrees with J.D.'s. I found that that was nice, but what had happened was you had so many people who were attaining the level of doctor, and the criteria had changed considerably, because what it meant in most of the schools that people attended, you had to have four years. You had to have a bachelor's to enter law school, and law school was three more years. Well, obviously, the three years is somewhat postgraduate work, so if a person, say, got a bachelor's and then went three years, they normally would pick up a master's degree and a Ph.D. at the end of three years, if they were full-time students. So the lawyers did not particularly like the idea that they were winding up with simply a J.D.—I'm sorry, simply the LL.B. The lawyers themselves, in order to improve their profession—


Tyler

They wanted that graduate degree.


King

They wanted a doctorate, okay, so that's one reason they changed it to Doctor of Jurisprudence. In fact—


Tyler

That used to be an honorary degree, because I recall with Charles H. Matthews, he graduated from UC [University of California] Berkeley in what, 1923, '22, and I think he had J.D. on his diploma because he was first in his class when the bachelor was the norm. But, anyway.


King

You know, that was one of the oddities, because as


259
it stands even today, I believe, when you graduate and you get the J.D., if you go back to school and take graduate work above the J.D., the normal thing that you end up with is a Master's of Laws. So the scenario is a little bit different: you get the doctorate and you come back to the master's.


Tyler

Can you get a full Ph.D. in law?


King

No.


Tyler

It's either the J.D. or the master's, huh?


King

In most cases it's just the J.D.. That's about what 90 percent, 99 percent—


Tyler

Because I would imagine the professors who teach law are just the top students, right? Or graduates?


King

Well, there are an awful lot of lawyers who teach in law school who are part-timers, and it is very important that they be part-timers, because you need the practitioner who is keeping up with the state of what is going on outside, inside the classroom to some extent. In other words, they have to be both scholars and they have to have some understanding of what's going on out there in the real world, so it has contributed to a point where you got an awful lot of lawyers who are part-time practioners.


Tyler

Well, anyway, you were at this Pacific Coast law school, and you went through in the three years?


King

I think it was about three years, slightly plus on


260
the three-year situation, might have been three years and one semester, maybe three and a half years. The school itself, the basic institution is located in Long Beach, and it still survives today as a law school. It is listed, unfortunately, because of some stereotyping that has always somewhat existed, they have a tendency to call law schools, "unaccredited law schools", and "unaccredited" is not correct in terms of making the evaluation. It simply is a school that has not been accredited, but unaccredited, of course, would mean that some negative decision has been made about the school. Well, it just so happens that the school had, say, the same ranking as Southwestern law school [Southwestern University School of Law], which today is the largest law school in America, and was still in that category of unaccredited law schools—


Tyler

Oh, really.


King

—when they attained number one. In addition—


Tyler

Is it accredited?


King

It is accredited now, yes.


Tyler

But it used not to be.


King

It was not.


Tyler

Yeah, most accreditation goes with the staff, type of ranks the staff have, right? Then it passes the accreditation bureau.


King

And entry level requirements are a factor too. Most


261
of the judges at one time in Southern California came out of Southwestern law school, which again [was] an unaccredited law school.


Tyler

Just as long as you pass the bar is the real question and have some training.


King

That is correct. You become an attorney when you pass the bar, you are a lawyer when you finish law school. And there have been a lot of very fine people who have come out of this small school. In fact, the present chief justice of the United States Supreme Court [Warren E. Burger] attended a night school some place up in Wisconsin, or Minnesota, or someplace up there [Saint Paul College of Law, Saint Paul, Minnesota]. You've got an awful lot of people who've decided that, you know, that that's the way to go. And I am very pleased that I put the time in; in putting that time in, it did bring me up to a point where I certainly had a much better understanding.


Tyler

So you did graduate, you finished, graduated from there.


King

Oh yeah, I graduated in June of 1951.


Tyler

Now, what was your motivation to go to law school?


King

It was really to learn more about the contracts that I would be involved in, how to effectively understand the legal process and the complete pretrial release system, criminal law from an overall standpoint, and it was


262
basically to improve my ability to be able to deal with the bail bond business. I decided I wanted to be a professional in this business, and I felt that it was necessary and important for me to—


Tyler

Now, did Dave Finley or anyone advise you to do this, or you came to this conclusion on your own?


King

Oh, I made the decision on my own.


Tyler

So at about twenty-one, twenty-two, then, you made a decision that bail bondsman would be your life's career, almost?


King

Yeah—


Tyler

It was going to be the serious thing you were going to do. Had you thought about doing something else in the time that you got out and then went and took over this jukebox route? Had you flirted or dabbled in anything else?


King

No. I made up my mind that I was going to be in the bail bond business.


Tyler

How long had you thought about that?


King

Well, I had this just strong desire to want to help people. And somehow, it seemed to me that this was the opportunity to be able to help people, because the idea of getting out of jail as far as our community was concerned, was that when you got somebody out of jail, you were helping them. And also, I saw the other side of that coin,


263
and that was that you could also make a living. Now, I knew that I was not going to be consorting with people who were, you know, heavily into the criminal activities. There was never any doubt in my mind about that, and in all these years, thirty-plus years, I basically have not really consorted with the people that I do business with, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I feel that there is some high level of inferiority in any of these people or not. It is just that I had an abiding concern that if you're going to do business with people, in the nature of this business, that you should not be looking at them all the time. You'd probably be making your own clients uncomfortable. So I decided at an early point that I would simply do my business and I would not get involved or engaged in the situations that could prove embarrassing for my clients. I felt that they deserved confidentiality when they dealt with me, and they got it. Not only did I keep everything inside the office, even everyone in the office was not necessarily aware of some of the people that we had gotten out, and those kind of situations. So I felt it was important, and it did work out and has helped me considerably through the years, because at least people know if they deal with me that the likelihood is that there will not be any outside discussions with anyone. And it's a one-way street, that's the way I sort of describe it.
264
Information comes in, and it's just buried there. It just stays at that particular point. Then, of course, as years went on, I ultimately got to the point where I was too busy to take the time to talk about anybody's activities anyway.


Tyler

Now, was there any particular reason why you had developed this urge to help people? Was there any particular experience or observation that you focused in on that occurred that you can remember that was a real turning point or an eye-opener for you about what you wanted to do, and why you felt that way?


King

Well, I liked the idea of being able to have an income seven days a week, that I was not confined to making a living five days a week, and I also liked the idea of having a cash business, so that there would be the constant cash flow, and it just simply attracted me from that kind of standpoint. I worked many, many hours, but I guess I developed the workaholic approach. I don't feel any particular adverse effect from working long hours; it doesn't bother me in the least.


Tyler

Do you have a lot of energy?


King

I don't know that I have high points in energy, but rarely does my energy run out. But it is that I do things on a fairly consistent basis, a fairly steady basis, and I just go on and on and on. I guess one of my favorite


265
answers to that type of question is, have you ever seen a tired Porsche? [laughter]


Tyler

That's the car, Porsche? They keep on running.


King

They keep on running, right. And they get across the finish line. I have enjoyed working. I certainly don't count hours, not at all, not in the least.


Tyler

Now, how did you go ahead and establish yourself as a bail bondsman after you finished law school? You were working in Dave Finley's office. How did you eventually branch off into your independent operation?


King

Well, Dave and I had talked about it for a long time, and, in fact, he helped me in terms of getting started. He wasn't too enthusiastic about it at the early stages, because I was doing such a great job for him.


Tyler

In terms of what?


King

In terms of handling night work. We'd have to get up sometimes in the middle of the night and go post a bond. Well, I had taken a considerable amount of weight off of him, and he wasn't particularly happy about the idea initially, but he did help me thereafter when it became perfectly clear, that, hey, we would simply work together even though I would have a separate office. My dad [Celestus A. King, Jr.] had a building that was next door to the liquor store that was on the fringe of downtown, and we were forced into remodeling the building, simply because


266
the building was just getting old and we had to do something about it.


Tyler

Was that because of city authorities or housing authorities, or you just said, "Well, it's deteriorating, let's do something"?


King

Well, it's kind of a combination, but we pretty well did it on our own. There were requirements that were out there in terms of bringing things up to code, but there wasn't any big push by the city in terms of bringing these things up to code, because a lot of the buildings were very old that were near the skid row area, and they just had to have these places for people to live, so they only put a limited amount of pressure on the owners. We were interested in making our entire front look better, so Pop put a new front on this building. The building was recessed back about a dozen feet, so it made it just fine; they were able to put a new front on. It was an old frame building, but when we finished with the front on it, it was right up with a good contemporary design, and it blended into the liquor store building that was next door.


Tyler

Was the rebuilding costly?


King

It was costly, but it was financed, so there was a way of amortizing it over a good period of time. But it was a considerable amount of money at that time. But it was the way my dad wanted to do things, and that was to


267
improve the place where you made a living, and that he did. He increased the size of the store by probably 50 percent and increased the amount—


Tyler

This is his liquor store.


King

Yeah, so it was a nice-looking front all the way across. There was a barbershop on one side and that was leased out, and on the other side was an office, so I took the office there and started operating the business out of the office. It was not the most convenient place, but I took the position that, hey, this is what I have; I will do the best that I can with it. As time went on, it became very good in terms of a location, because I created it as a location, by dealing with my clients. In fact, I used to have a little situation where the clients would have to come by the office in many cases, rather than me doing the paperwork at the time, and all that was designed to let people know where I was and to get to my office. So, as time went on, that worked out quite well.


Tyler

In other words, you made the location work. Rather than the location push you up, you pushed it.


King

That was exactly what I had to do. It worked out just fine, took—


Tyler

Now, what was the address, can you recall, or actually the street?


King

Yes, the liquor store was 911 East Sixth Street and


268
my office was 909 East Sixth Street.


Tyler

Are those particular buildings still standing?


King

The one where my office was located, which was a wooden building, has been knocked down for a parking lot, but the brick building where the liquor store was is still there. My dad sold the liquor store probably—well, he sold the liquor store itself in 1957, and then at a later point, probably about 1970 or so, he sold the building itself. The building is still there.


Tyler

Any particular reason he sold out? Because he rebuilt the place and then sold out within five or six years, right?


King

Well, he was in the business for sixteen years, and he rebuilt the place about 1950, and when he ultimately sold it it was twenty years later. But, let's see. It was—he was in business longer than, I'm thinking—'50, '57. That's about right, '41 to '57, and when he sold it out, well, he had gotten good use out of the premises. He went in, and, of course, he had to end up buying the building, you know, and he ultimately paid it off. And then he sold the building because he was simply no longer involved there. The purpose of having a building, a commercial building, in many cases if you have a small business, is so that you can maintain control of that particular piece of turf. I mean, it may cost you just as


269
much to buy the building as it does to lease the building. In fact, you may even spend more money through ownership, but at the end the rewards are much greater.


Tyler

In what way?


King

Well, whenever you sell the premises, you generally have got to a point where the value has been enhanced and gone up, number one. And number two, if you're using it for your own business, you're at a point where you will have gotten the best years out of that particular building and location. And then when you sell it, you generally are selling it at a time when you may have retired or something along that line, so you're selling it at a time when your tax situation is such that what you bring in from it, you would have more of it left. On the other hand, if you rent or lease, when you decide to check out, that's it. It's a cash kind of an operation.


Tyler

We haven't really talked about that. Was there any special reason your father went into the liquor business in '41, because that's like three years after, or four years after the '38 move here? Was that part of the family expansion, or Nelson— Was it William Nelson?


King

James Nelson.


Tyler

James Nelson. Was that part of the business expansion or some plan that he had in mind, or was it— Well, because you said your father was going to manage the


270
hotel?


King

Initially, there was an effort that was going to be made to put a liquor store right in the premises itself.


Tyler

Right in the Dunbar?


King

Yeah, in the Dunbar; however, it turned out that that place had been leased out, and—


Tyler

When you bought it?


King

The people came in there, I think, shortly after my uncle bought the place, and that was before we had moved to California, so it was already out and under lease. And, of course, we decided that there was no need to put those people out, just let them [stay], and my dad looked for another location. But he still spent a considerable amount of time with my uncle and around the hotel.


Tyler

Now, I guess to sort of shift back to the hotel, I understand they had a bar-club there, a barbershop was there. Was there an eating establishment there?


King

Oh, yeah, a well-renowned eating establishment there [Dunbar Grill]. In fact, I think the people who had that establishment when I first got here—a woman by the name of McPherson had it, and it was one of the places to go.


Tyler

She leased it?


King

Actually, it was she and her husband, but she was the principal one in the operation, and Mrs. McPherson did an incredible job there.



271
Tyler

She leased it and then ran a restaurant there?


King

Right.


Tyler

Now, what were their backgrounds? Where did they learn their cooking trade or whatever?


King

I don't know. When I first saw them, they were cooking, and they did it quite well, so I—


Tyler

That was at the Dunbar?


King

That was at the Dunbar. Now, there was a bar next door to the grill, and that bar was owned by Mr. Lucius Lomax.


Tyler

That's in the Dunbar?


King

In the Dunbar Hotel.


Tyler

He owned it?


King

Well, he leased the space, and he owned the license, so, in a sense, yes, he owned the business, but he did not own the premises. He simply—


Tyler

He just had an independent operation, then.


King

Right, and one of sort of the places to go to get your hair cut, etc., was the Dunbar Hotel barbershop. A lot of discussions—


Tyler

Where Lucius Lomax [Sr.]—


King

Well, Lucius Lomax had the bar.


Tyler

Oh, the bar, I'm sorry, I'm getting confused.


King

And next door to that was the barbershop.


Tyler

Who ran that?



272
King

I think I can pull that out of my memory, because my dad used to get his hair cut there all the time, and I will remember the name of the owner of the barbershop. [Leroy Minter]


Tyler

Was it just one barber chair?


King

Oh, no, there were half a dozen barber chairs that were in there.


Tyler

So he had about six barbers cutting?


King

Oh yeah, and they were always loaded with business.


Tyler

Now, did they do processing?


King

Yes, back in those days, they did do processing.


Tyler

Was that the big attraction?


King

That was the big moneymaker for the barbers.


Tyler

Now, this is the fifties?


King

Oh, you're going—oh, okay, I'm going back down to—


Tyler

Late thirties, forties.


King

Late thirties, forties.


Tyler

No, that's fine, that's okay. I mean, that's actually what I meant. So that was the big— Do you remember how much the process cost in the late thirties or forties, early first half of the forties?


King

You know, I don't have the slightest recollection. Of course, it would be easy to find out, because some of the barbers are still here in Los Angeles—


Tyler

Oh, really?



273
King

—who used to either work there or one of the other shops that were around. One of the other shops across the street was quite well renowned. That was Spencer Brown. Spencer Brown was very, very well known as a barber.


Tyler

Was that because of the processes? Or just barber in general?


King

Barber in general, the processes, and sort of a guy around town, front row center, drove new automobiles all the time, which was in itself somewhat of a centerpiece of a lot of things. And he was a family friend, too, Spencer Brown. Kind of goes back to one thing. I spoke with him recently, and he has a picture that I gave him forty-plus years ago. When I was in the air force, they took a picture of me standing on the side of a wing of an aircraft—


Tyler

At Tuskegee [Institute]?


King

At Tuskegee.


Tyler

You don't have a copy?


King

My dad may have one. Other than that, the only one of these pictures that is still around is the one that Spencer Brown has.


Tyler

Well, you ought to get a copy.


King

He has suggested that I take it. He said he's not going to give me the original. [laughter] He said, "You can have all the copies made you want."



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Tyler

A copy would be just as well.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

But now, you were saying that the barbershop was very popular because of the conversations and the people that clustered there. Did a lot of entertainers, Hollywood people [come around]? Was it that approach, or what?


King

Black entertainers, basically, were there. All sorts of things happened around that facility. For instance, if you can remember Rochester [Eddie Anderson] who worked with Jack Benny. Jack Benny called down to the hotel, and they were really looking for a different person, and the guy wasn't there, and Rochester then went to the telephone, and from there on, and the guy became a millionaire, as a result, from working and playing the part of Rochester.


Tyler

Oh, Jack Benny called there looking for—


King

Someone to work with him on the show.


Tyler

Just one of the blacks?


King

He had a name, and I'll get the name of the guy he actually called for, and he wasn't there.


Tyler

So Rochester got on the phone.


King

Yeah, yeah, and talked with Jack Benny, and went out to Hollywood and—



275

Tape Number: VII, Side Two
June 27, 1985

Tyler

Did that establish any special relationship with Jack Benny and Rochester with the Dunbar?


King

Years ago, and was he looking for Johnny Taylor? And then Rochester happened to be standing out on the side of the building.


Barber

That's correct. He was looking for a boy named Johnny Taylor.


King

Yeah, okay, I thought it was Johnny, but—


Barber

Johnny Taylor was serving time in jail.


King

[laughter] That's right. He was in the county jail, wasn't he?


Barber

That's correct. That's why Rochester got the break. That's the guy who walked on to fame.


King

Okay, it was Johnny Taylor; I just wanted to be sure, because I couldn't remember.

Well, I guess we were somewhat talking about just some of the things that did occur that had lasting impact as far as that theatrical arena was concerned. And, of course, everybody who was involved in the theater from the black perspective at one time or another was sitting in that Dunbar Hotel lobby. It was sort of like a pickup point where, if you needed black artists, you could call there and you could generally find most of the entertainers


276
getting calls there and other kinds of activities. We talked about the situation with Benny and the fact that it was a fellow by the name of Taylor that he was actually trying to reach, and when he was unable to reach him, Rochester picked up the call. Rochester went on to fame and fortune, probably for almost fifteen, twenty years. In fact, there's a small street in South Los Angeles right now that is named Rochester Square [Rochester Circle], named after Rochester.


Tyler

When was that named? I've never heard of it.


King

It was named a few, oh, about probably 1980 or so, maybe even a little before then, and the location of it is near Cimarron [Street] and Thirty-seventh [Street], which is a few blocks west of Western Avenue.


Tyler

Cimarron and Thirty-seventh.


King

It's a cul-de-sac that goes up, and—


Tyler

Oh, yeah, that little round. I'm going to have to go check it out, yeah.

Now, I imagine it must have been the thirties and forties, unless it was the twenties, the black jazz musician— Oh, my goodness, I can't think of his name. He played a big role in organizing the black musicians union [Local 767, American Federation of Musicians] that was merged later with the white musicians union [Local 47, American Federation of Musicians] here in L.A. He's a big


277
jazz musician, and I got an album by him, but I can't think of his name. [Benny Carter]


King

Well, there was a black musicians union, and it was near Washington Boulevard and Central Avenue. Some of the people that were involved in it, one was a fellow named Baron Moorehead, and he was a trombone player and he had his own band at one time. He was one of the guys who used to go around to see to it that the musicians got paid and received a reasonable kind of compensation, because the clubs had a way of sometimes not taking care of all of their obligations. But that was understandable, too, because the times were difficult and it was hard to do.


Tyler

Was the Dunbar a hangout for many of these people, too?


King

Well, Baron Moorehead, who was one of the officials of the union, lived in the hotel, so he—


Tyler

Oh, really?


King

Yeah, he lived there year round for a number of years. He ultimately bought a house.


Tyler

So the Dunbar actually was not only temporary, but you could rent what amounted to what was an apartment; it was a hotel-apartment type situation.


King

No, it wasn't a hotel-apartment, but it had all of the total trappings of an apartment, because there was a grill downstairs, and food could be brought up. They had


278
bellhop service, and that kind of a situation. So it was certainly possible that a person could easily live there. And within just a matter of a couple of blocks in any direction, any service that anyone needed was available, all the way from the local pawnshop to the local rent-a-tux place. And, of course, you had four or five of the bars that were around there, all of them were popular bars, were very close, very, very close together.


Tyler

Now, did the Dunbar cause these clubs to come and cluster around the Dunbar, or was it the other way around? They all were there, or some of them were there and rose together, or opened about the same time, or what?


King

I think they clustered around the Dunbar, because the Dunbar, you know, tourism was always a major key, and when you had people that came in from out of town, well, the Dunbar always stayed full. You couldn't, without reservations, just couldn't get into the Dunbar, but because of the fact that there were so many visitors and things that were coming in from out of town, it meant that the extra tourist dollar was around. Also, it was the tallest building—probably between downtown as far as Central Avenue was concerned—probably the tallest building from there, maybe all the way to Long Beach. You're talking about a four-story building, which today you wouldn't even begin to count unless you had fifty stories


279
under it. But now four stories back in those days was a major building and very, very large, and it was an important kind of a situation. So, as time went by, everything centered there. Now, you know, you had the chorus line that was there.


Tyler

There was a chorus line there?


King

Oh, yeah. Well, right next door.


Tyler

Is that the name of a club, the Chorus Line?


King

No, it was the Club Alabam, but they did have a chorus line, so that meant a lot of petite-looking, good-looking young ladies were around.


Tyler

How long did this chorus line last at the Club Alabam?


King

It must have lasted for a decade.


Tyler

Which was what era, from what time?


King

It must have lasted probably from, oh, the early thirties to the early forties.


Tyler

All the way up to the war?


King

Oh, yeah.


Tyler

Was it still in operation in '45?


King

Ah, '45 it was a weekending kind of thing.


Tyler

Why?


King

Because just simply the nature of the community was growing, and additional facilities were beginning to rise. You had motels that were beginning to show in the


280
community, and that was beginning to broaden the attraction. Some additional hotels had been opened up to blacks that were on the Fifth and Sixth Street area. Several hotels down there opened for black business.


Tyler

Were these respectable and big and new, or were they old hotels, but they were still in pretty good shape by the standards of the time?


King

Yeah, they were old hotels, like the Morris Hotel that was on Fifth Street. Sammy Davis, Jr., used to live down there when he was a kid, he and his father and his uncle. They stopped there, and a number of other musicians, because then things were changing a little bit; black artists were beginning to appear more frequently at the Million Dollar Theatre and at the Paramount Theatre. The Paramount Theatre is no longer there. It was on Sixth [Street] and Hill Street. So there was a broadening of the community. There had been an influx of people that had come in during the war period; the defense job availability had attracted a number of people in, principally from the South, but a lot of them had more than just agrarian-type skills. They were coming in from the black colleges and beginning to kind of get a little bit involved in the city.


Tyler

Now, I recall that white musicians from downtown and from the Million Dollar and the Paramount and other clubs would come to the Club Alabam and, I guess, the


281
Dunbar after hours or after their shows.


King

Well, there were a lot of after-hours spots that were around the Dunbar; the Dunbar itself didn't do the after-hours spot, but there were a lot of them that were sort of on the fringe of it. There was one—


Tyler

There was no after-hours activity at the Dunbar? It would be open, though? What, the bar would close at two and that was it?


King

Yeah, the bar would close at two; generally, the grill closed at the same time as the bar, and, of course, the lobby would be there, but there were after-hours spots that sprung up all around. There was one down on Forty-second Place that was only a couple blocks away, there was one across the street behind—


Tyler

Where they had the Club Alabam, the Memo, the Last Word, the Downbeat, Jack's Chicken in a Basket?


King

Yeah, those were the prominent clear clubs, then sort of like the after-hours spots. I'm having a little difficulty remembering places like Big Leg Chicken Place. It was mentioned the other day when we were talking about the—


Tyler

Oh yeah, another chicken, I can't remember—


King

It was upstairs, and a number of these after-hours spots began to spring up. That was after the basically normal bar activity. People still wanted somewhere to go,


282
so they would spin out of the bars and, after that, they would go to these after-hours spots, but there must have been a dozen little after-hours spots. Some of them even had entertainment.


Tyler

Oh, I know this. Benny Carter was the one I was trying to think of.


King

Benny Carter was a musician; he was around Central Avenue for a long period of time. He actually, though, was one of the first blacks to move into the Hollywood Hills, and he had a very beautiful home that was up there, sort of a cantilever type home.


Tyler

Cantilever?


King

Yeah, that sort of set out and was held up by stilts and those kinds of things. Beautiful view. I went to his home a number of times.


Tyler

Now, he made his money from his musicianship to afford that sort of home there?


King

Yes, yes.


Tyler

Was this the thirties, forties?


King

But he was also a writer, too. He wrote music and he was an arranger, in addition to having his band.


Tyler

With just black bands?


King

I think he was doing some arranging for whites, but, of course, his band was a black band, and it was a good band.



283
Tyler

Oh yeah. I have a lot of his stuff. I was just surprised. I got the impression that blacks, too many of them, didn't make too much money to move in such an area.


King

Well, he was basically kind of a conservative guy. You could notice that all about him, but he was always a clean-cut guy, always very much a gentleman, but frugal in his own way.


Tyler

So it was sort of unlike the musicians who lived fast and made money fast and spent it fast, so they had nothing to show for it.


King

That was not a Carter—


Tyler

Right, right, right. That's what I'm saying.


King

Carter was a different breed.


Tyler

But now, to my knowledge, Benny Carter was one of the main blacks that organized or helped to join the black and white musicians union, and, if I recall correctly, that he was the connection between Central Avenue and Hollywood for black extras. I understand that from the twenties and thirties that the Hollywood studios maintained an office on Central Avenue to recruit black extras. Was that Benny Carter, or was that sort of loosely done? Would people call in to the Dunbar or to the black musicians union, or what?


King

I think it was a combination of things, but everybody identified the hotel as sort of the centerpiece


284
of everything that happened out there, and I think that the Dunbar itself could easily be considered the attractive type of factor that caused a lot of people to think in those terms. Simply, they had the vision, they had the perception that everybody was easily accessible around the hotel, so even the people that had little independent places, they still spent a lot of their time down at the hotel. So if there was a recruiting place, one of your daily stops was almost someplace in that block around Forty-second Place and Central, and a lot of times people would go to every spot down there, so they'd make a round robin of it and hit everyplace there.


Tyler

So you actually don't recall any clearinghouse or an actual office that someone was manning for the Hollywood scene, the Hollywood cinema.


King

No, except that all the people that were involved in the cinema things were someplace within a few blocks of there. You could find them all every day, every night, unless they were out on location working, and there was no way of avoiding that situation. That was just the spot; nothing topped it. And a lot of the girls, when they were not working, would work over in the Club Alabam on the line, and that kind of thing.


Tyler

When a lot of girls weren't working at the Dunbar?


King

No, a lot of the girls who were working, say, in the


285
movies and those kind of things—


Tyler

Oh, okay.


King

—that would get the extra shot here and there. You know, Lena Horne lived in the hotel for a period of time, and there was one woman who went on to some level of stardom to some extent—I think her name was Simmons, and I can't put the first name with it—but she became somewhat well-known for a period of time there. But Billie Holiday, of course, when she was in town, she lived at the hotel.


Tyler

Was this the forties, fifties?


King

Early forties, maybe late thirties. They were all there. Most of the doctors in the community would come through, the lawyers would all come through. It was sort of—


Tyler

Now, were all social classes welcome there, or came there, or did a certain type tend to come to the Dunbar?


King

Well, a few blocks down the street, you had one of the few places, if you go back to the late thirties and the early forties, one of the few places where blacks could have dances, and that was the Elks [Club] auditorium. The Elks was a large facility, large dance hall. So most of the large dances and those kind of things that occurred by the fraternal groups were generally held at the Elks auditorium. That too was, I think, a three-, four-story structure.



286
Tyler

What street was that, Central and what?


King

About Fortieth [Street] and Central, almost at [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] Boulevard, what is now King Boulevard, which at that time was Santa Barbara Avenue. Later on, it became a mosque, and it has been for the last eight or ten years the place where the Muslims have their mosque. But that was the Elks, and it was a nice place. Adequate parking on the side. It was the place where most of the major dances occurred. So you had about a half-a-dozen-block area where most of the social activities took place, because there just were not that many other places that anyone could go. You certainly could not go into the white community because there was no open door policy there. The white community, a lot of whites, of course, came to Central Avenue during that period of time. It wasn't unusual just to see car after carload of them coming up at night and going to the various bars and bouncing from one to another. I guess kind of using the other phrase, it was a little Las Vegas in that area, and certainly would have been a mini— But, of course, Las Vegas, too, in 1939, was not what Las Vegas is in, you know—


Tyler

Today's time.


King

That's right, 1985—but they had the spots, and they were there, and they had the name singers, meaning name black singers, all the blues singers.



287
Tyler

At the Dunbar?


King

No.


Tyler

I mean at the local clubs, at the local clubs.


King

At the local clubs.


Tyler

Now, as I was saying on the social question, in terms of the Dunbar, it was patronized by whites and blacks of all social categories?


King

Okay, whites and blacks came into the hotel. Now, whites did not stay at the hotel.


Tyler

Could they have stayed?


King

Oh, yes. Yeah. It did not matter to my uncle one way or the other.


Tyler

But they never would rent a room or stay overnight or anything?


King

Generally, they were staying in the white community, came over, would spend a few hours, and then would disappear back into the white community.


Tyler

So you never recall whites renting one room in the Dunbar?


King

Oh, yeah, there were occasional situations, but it was basically not a white or an integrated-type setting as far as the rooms in the hotel was concerned.


Tyler

Now, was it that they just never inquired, or they never wanted to, or the segregation pattern was such that it was something you just didn't really think about, you


288
just didn't do?


King

Well, it was something that just simply was not done. In addition to the fact that it was not done, there was no particular need as far as the white community was concerned. They were able to resume their normal activities and go back over to where they, you know, wherever it was that they had come from. It was a Mecca, and it was really a tourist type of attraction to go there.


Tyler

Now, that actually lasted— Your family got the hotel in '38?


King

Nineteen thirty-six.


Tyler

`Thirty-six. So it right away was an attraction, the Dunbar?


King

Yes, what turned it back on, of course, was when the prohibition days were kind of awkward, and then when bars were legalized and other kinds of things, that's what kind of turned that community back on. Also, you had—


Tyler

You mean the Central Avenue?


King

Yeah, turned it back on. Now, because of the fact that there was such an acute depression, it took a little while for it to catch, but once it got going, it just continued to go, and it did quite well until integration began to show itself. Integration, of course, had an impact on every major black community in America, and certainly Central Avenue was no exception.



289
Tyler

In what way?


King

Basically, when it got to the point where blacks could stop at other hotels that were more conveniently located to the activities that they had come to California to be involved in, if there were seminars or they were here to deliver a paper or something, generally those kinds of things would take place in the downtown community. When a black finally got to the point that he could stop at, say, the Biltmore [Hotel] or at one of the other hotels— Now we're going back long before the Hilton [Hotel] was built downtown, and you had the Clark Hotel that was downtown. Now, we used to kind of kid about that, that there was a white Clark and a black Clark Hotel, because the black Clark Hotel was at Washington and Central, and the white Clark, which was a much larger hotel, was located about the—


Tyler

Seventh [Street] or Eighth [Street] and Figueroa [Street]?


King

—the four hundred block of South Hill [Street].


Tyler

Oh, Hill, okay.


King

Very close to Fifth [Street] and Hill. So we used to kind of kid about that: people would say that they're stopping at the Clark. We'd say, "White or black?"


Tyler

Now, again, in terms of patronizing the Dunbar, people of all black social classes came in, right?



290
King

Oh, yeah, because they had friends that were stopping there, and they'd have to come over to pick them up, you know, and that kind of situation.


Tyler

So that would go from working class to black entertainers and professionals?


King

Working class basically didn't stop there, because the price was too high. And when I say the price was too high, I'm not talking about the kind of prices that we deal with today. I'm talking about a hotel that would charge ten dollars a day, you know, back in a time when, you know, you could get a hotel room at the lower echelon on the situation; you could get a good hotel room for five dollars a day, back in those days. But the Dunbar was a cut above, and because of the fact that they had a good deal of business, they were able to establish those kinds of rates. Now, they had some very low rates for the people who were permanents, and some of those people that were permanents, they wanted them there. I mentioned Baron Moorehead, for instance, who worked with the musicians union, and that meant that he himself generated a good deal of activity and concern. The hotel was about 50 to a 100 percent higher in terms of the accomodations than most of the other places were.


Tyler

Plus it was pretty nice by the standards of the day.



291
King

Yes.


Tyler

It is my understanding that it was well kept.


King

Yeah, it was one of the few— It was very well kept. My uncle had discretionary dollars, and he was in a position so that he didn't really have to depend on the hotel per se in order to make ends meet for him, even though the hotel was a good profit maker. But it takes sometimes capital investment to be put into a building, and he had the dollars in order to do that. So it was always just excellent.


Tyler

Now, when you opened in '36, when did the white patronizers start coming over?


King

Oh, just about that time, they were beginning to come to Central Avenue. I think that maybe it was kind of looked at like a little Harlem approach situation, a little like the Grand Terrace section that they had in Chicago at that time, and the Thirteenth and Vine type thing in Kansas City. So everyone had those kind of opportunities. I think that—


Tyler

Do you recall when white patronage fell away?


King

It began to fall away as integration began to move in.


Tyler

What year would—


King

Well, I would say it really began to fall off shortly after the war in terms of beginning, in terms of


292
the big, the notoriety, well-known people coming there. Also, some other things of interest, a lot of the black ballplayers used to stop there. During the winter, all of the black ballplayers, the well-known ones, Willie Mays and [Roy] Campanella—


Tyler

This is still the forties?


King

I'm having some trouble identifying the exact year, but all the black, big league baseball players—


Tyler

When they were with the integrated baseball teams?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Not the black league?


King

Not the black leagues.


Tyler

Oh, you must be talking about the fifties. Isn't that when that occurred? Jackie Robinson, the early fifties with the Brooklyn Dodgers, now the L.A. Dodgers?


King

Yeah, well, I'm going all the way up to that point. They attracted a considerable amount of attention.


Tyler

Coming to the Dunbar.


King

A lot of them used to stop at the Dunbar because they played at Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field was only four blocks west of the Dunbar, right on Forty-second Place. So they had that as an attraction. What happened was the black ballplayers used to barnstorm during the winter season, and they would all get together and they would go from town to town to town, and they'd hit Los Angeles, and


293
then they'd work their way up finally to San Francisco and then on further and on up as far as Seattle.


Tyler

Playing ball?


King

Playing ball. It's kind of hard for people to remember those days, but all the old names, all the major names, they'd do it every year.


Tyler

These are the black leagues, right?


King

No! This is when they were playing— This is prior to an open integration situation and when they were playing for the major leagues. They had several players out of Cleveland, several out of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the various other places where they were playing. They all got together, and they did a barnstorm every year after the regular season.


Tyler

Oh, but they would just be playing exhibition games, or what?


King

Exhibition games, yeah.


Tyler

For the black community?


King

Well, they drew black and white. They basically were playing sort of a black circuit.


Tyler

Oh, yeah. Maybe that was out of the old black league tradition, huh?


King

Yeah, same thing.


Tyler

Now, that didn't last too long, I imagine?


King

No, it only lasted for a few years. But it was a


294
big thing while it lasted, real big thing.


Tyler

Because baseball by the late fifties was falling rapidly to black players. You know, they could go in more and more unhampered, I guess.


King

Right. I've got to cut off.


Tyler

Okay.



295

Tape Number: VIII, Side One
July 6, 1985

Tyler

Well, we still had been talking about the rise of the Dunbar Hotel and the rise of Central Avenue and some of the activities that occurred on Central Avenue. When did Central Avenue and the hotel start declining, and your notice of it or your family's notice of it?


King

Well, I think there were several factors that were involved, all of which tended to converge during the same period of time. The situation involving integration, which meant that whites were no longer as attracted to the Central Avenue area on one side, and blacks were attracted to a more openness and receptiveness on the part of business establishments to open. So you get this decrease in white business and decrease in black business and this then being closely followed by the tourist business, where basically tourism people that were coming in—blacks coming into Los Angeles, not being restricted and confined—began to stay in the integration opening places. Now, that meant a good deal of money that used to come, say, to Central Avenue and to Avalon [Boulevard] and to the basic South Central black area, was no longer being infused into that community.

Another variable that was influencing was the fact that the community itself was getting older, and it did not


296
have adequate parking for it to handle any large conventions or things of that nature. For instance, the Dunbar Hotel did not have a parking lot, which, I guess, in 1928 and '29, when they were putting that construction together, that wasn't such a major situation because the trains and people were coming by streetcar and other kind of ways. Street parking may have been sufficient back in those days, and there were no requirements. The Club Alabam—which was only a few storefronts down the street [and] which drew enormous late-night crowds—it meant that people had to park on the street and on the side streets, and it left an attraction there for vandalism and other kind of things because it was not secured, or at least parking in an adjacent premises. And when you add up all of those other things—the impact of the Downbeat club, the Memo club, and the other clubs that were along there, and, of course, the Dunbar with its reasonably attractive bar that it had there—the whole thing about parking became somewhat of an issue. Also, in the evenings, it was just crammed with people, and it tended as time went along to make it difficult for people to do business there. There are certain kind of normal conveniences that are just almost required for people to just make reasonable kind of business contacts. So the community was growing older all during this period of time, and the amount of new construction
297
and reconstruction was not consistent with the amount of business that they were doing. And it was causing people to begin to look in other areas to locate businesses. So the blacks had always had some small colonies on what was called the Westside. Actually, it was not the West Los Angeles that we know and understand today, but it was a division in the ghetto itself, Main Street sort of being the dividing line. But the Westside which is described in our community is not West L.A.; it is simply the Westside of the ghetto. Businesses began to crop up on Western Avenue. Some of the bars then began to open up there, and people then had a choice in terms of where to go. The same situation with smaller retail businesses.

There was a major move which took place by the Golden State [Mutual] Life Insurance Company. When they moved their headquarters from Central Avenue to Western Avenue, it was a major situation as far as the opening up of motels and a hotel that was on the Westside. So [the] opening up of businesses on Western which also creeped back, say, to, Normandie [Avenue] and a few—a very, very few, though—on Vermont [Avenue], and then a very few that were on Crenshaw [Boulevard]. You had arterial streets that were running east and west like Jefferson [Boulevard] that were beginning to hold out an attraction. And you had Adams Boulevard, too, that was holding out an attraction. And


298
then businesses were beginning to open up further south. Some years before, when Fremont High School, say, was maybe seven or eight miles south of the Dunbar Hotel and to the west, where it was principally a white school— It was becoming an integrated school en route to a black school. So all of a sudden you did have a dispersement, and the dispersement was the kind of a situation that all accrued against the perpetuation of Central Avenue remaining the principal business location for blacks.


Tyler

Are you talking about the forties and fifties, or what?


King

This occurred basically in the early, starting in the early fifties, and it just continued to spread like a very slow-moving situation, but ultimately [it] did right on through the fifties. By the time we got to the late fifties, there was a dispersement throughout the entire, extended area. Now, blacks were not opening up businesses on Wilshire Boulevard or in Hollywood or in the Beverly Hills or West L.A. districts, but they were expanding considerably, and it just took a lot of the attractiveness off of having people go to Central Avenue. At that time, the hotels were beginning to open up, so it meant that the Central Avenue facility that the Elks [Club] operated, which was called the Elks Hall, that there were other opportunities in other places where people could have their


299
dances and other things. And they were openly solicited, because they charged the full price in general, and, basically, they were able to negotiate good transactions with black groups. There was an initial fear that there were going to be problems, but those were soon alleviated as a part of the business situation, so then the blacks had a pretty well open choice in terms of where to have their activities.


Tyler

Did blacks take advantage of those activities to the point that they just totally neglected the old Central Avenue and Elks?


King

I would say, to a large degree, yes, that did occur. There were some reasons for it, and possibly Central Avenue simply just did not keep up with the pace, and then they did not make the effort to stay sort of in the mainstream of what was occurring. So you had this gradual erosion. Now, I had opened my bail bond agency next door to my dad's liquor store, which was on the fringe of skid row. We were on Sixth Street and about a hundred yards from Central Avenue, and I felt that it would be in my self-interest to move my office from Central Avenue and Sixth Street to the office at the Dunbar Hotel. We had an office, and it was available on the corner. It was very simple for me to make the move, so I made the move, and at the same time, I bought the bar license from Mr. Lucius


300
Lomax [Sr.], who had operated the bar since its opening. Actually, during that part of the time, his son [Lucius Lomax, Jr.] had operated the bar, but I think that the bar was always in his name. But his son did operate the bar for a considerable period of time. As I look back on that situation and I begin to really think it out, I'm not too sure that there is very much that could have been done to have stemmed the tide of the trend that was moving. There was a strong integration movement, and there was a strong movement toward an increase in life-style, and the people who were beginning to be affluent were thinking about going to places where that affluence could be reflected in their own self-worth, if they were able to go to key places. Now, a lot of places in Southern California had not opened up at that time, like Palm Springs, for instance, had not opened up. So there were still a lot of people going to sort of the black places where you went for weekends and activities. Blacks were still going to Elsinore and to Val Verde and a few to Perris. When I say Perris, I—


Tyler

Perris, California?


King

—do not mean Paris, France. [laughter] And a few were up in the Victorville area that had their ranches in the desert. So times were changing, and it was clear to anybody who was really looking at it.

Now, of course, my family had a nostalgic view about


301
the hotel, and we wanted to keep it in some sort of reasonable order. The hotel had gone into a trust that we had designed ourselves, and the trust was that it would go to the youngest male in trust, and that it would be turned over to him at age thirty-five. The Security [First National] Bank was set up as the trustee on the situation, and we as a family still maintained control of the premises. But, in that kind of fashion, we were sort of hoping that we would be able to keep the interest in it from our family's standpoint and perpetuate it for a longer period of time. Of course, with the total erosion, even though we had other income from other sources, with the erosion of the business climate and other kind of things, we ultimately decided to sell the property.


Tyler

Was it paid off?


King

It was paid off except for taxes. There were inheritance taxes that were involved when my uncle [James Nelson] passed, but other than that, it was completely free and clear.


Tyler

When in the trust did you give up management of it?


King

No, no. We had the management of the situation, and this was a method to see to it that it would sort of stay in the family for a long period of time.


Tyler

This is the fifties now?


King

We're going back now— I think we put that trust


302
together probably in the late forties, and five or six years later, my granduncle, Jimmy Nelson, who owned the hotel, he passed. Then that put us in the position of having to actually take it over in terms of the management and other kind of things. So then in '57 I actually moved to the hotel in terms of taking my business—


Tyler

The bail bonds?


King

Right, and also I operated the bar there. It was possible to continue to make it move, but the bar was profitable. But the hotel was not particularly profitable; it was very, very marginal, because we were losing the affluent traffic. In fact, we lost all the affluent traffic.


Tyler

So, did you have to lower your room rates?


King

The room rates were lowered, but not basically the quality of the service and other kind of things. There were still the bellhops that were available and those things, but I was—


Tyler

Did the clientele shift to another social type group, or whatever?


King

The clientele that we were dealing with—the Duke Ellington bands and the major people that were coming out—were beginning to stop in downtown hotels. And—


Tyler

Do you think you could have won them over through some kind of racial appeal, or business, or patriotic


303
appeal? Was that ever attempted, or what?


King

We made a continuing effort, and when that situation was clear, we just simply opened it up, basically, and set up contracts with the railroad people. So that the railroad waiters and porters then came to our hotel by contract. And about 75 percent of the cost of the rooms were paid for by the railroad people, and they simply paid a difference out of their pocket. Now, there were hotels where they could stay in and not pay anything out of their pockets, but there were some who simply chose to come out into South Los Angeles. So our rate was still higher than the rate of the basic hotels where the railroad folk were coming in, but we put those contracts together, and it worked out fairly well for a long period of time. And I think—


Tyler

For how long, would you say?


King

Oh, it must have worked well for five, six, seven years.


Tyler

And this would be from the mid-fifties to what, '62 or something? ['Sixty]-three?


King

Yeah. And then there were new contracts with the railroads, and there was new competition that the railroads were facing. The biggest competition the railroads, of course, were facing was the private automobile. And it meant—



304
Tyler

Of course, the red cars faced that too. [laughter]


King

[laughter] Yeah.


Tyler

Same time period.


King

The roads were getting better and a lot of people that were coming out from the east that were bringing families drove up. It made motels more attractive, and it also had the other impact. The other impact was very, very clear: it reduced the ridership on the trains. So it meant there was less use of porters.


Tyler

Were these Pullman porters?


King

Pullman porters and also people who worked as waiters. Quite a few waiters. But as their business began to go down, and the automobile began to move up—and, of course, there were the airplanes too, which were a factor as far as moving people back and forth was concerned. But it was not heavily the jet age as it is now, where you really had the mass element, but there was that situation. This was one of the major factors in stemming the situation. So it made the competition then for those contracts much more competitive. And in our case, we had a contract, but the men had to pay extra in order to stay at the Dunbar.


Tyler

At the time the attractions were declining.


King

There you are, now. So the numbers declined, the whole thing, and you looked up, and this train was knocked


305
off, and another train was knocked off; schedules were combined, and those kind of things. And even, you go down to the railroad station to meet someone and you could walk straight through, no crowds. I mean, you could [laughter] begin to see something was happening.


Tyler

Now, was there ever any real concerted effort in the leaders to save Central Avenue, other than what you've just said? Or was there just sort of a resignation that "This is the way things go, and let's move with the flow"?


King

I think it was "Let's move with the flow" kind of a situation. But you had two things. One, the owners of the businesses that were on Central Avenue were not necessarily the big thrust of moving toward the Westside. There were new business people coming in; the population was increasing. And there were new opportunities for people to deal with small businesses. Basically, the newer people and a percentage of the old business people were beginning to establish businesses west of Main Street. And Broadway became sort of a new business street.


Tyler

Is that the Broadway-Manchester area?


King

No, the Broadway-Vernon [Avenue] area.


Tyler

Oh, okay.


King

Broadway [Federal] Savings and Loan [Association] went there; several other financial kind of institutions were in the area. It was to be close to, of course, the


306
Harbor Freeway, which was a main arterial street there, and the thrust was going toward Broadway. And Broadway and Vernon was gradually beginning to become not a replacement for Vernon and Central, but Vernon and Broadway was creating its own new situation.


Tyler

You get this dispersement as you pointed out. Now, you've been suggesting clearly here that the black focus was a result of black businesses. What about white cluster business groups? Did they ever leave the domination of the cluster of black residents or the focus of black social cultural life, or business, or consumer life?


King

Well, the whites that owned businesses continued to own those businesses and continued basically to be the centerpiece as far as business was concerned. They owned and almost controlled with a death grip the key corners, the Vernon and Central, where the streetcar transfer there was a major point. Basically, white businessmen, which were basically, I guess you could say, in terms of ethnic background, basically, they were Jewish. And they related into the community. They participated in all the things; they had the furniture stores, they had—


Tyler

You're not talking about Nat Diamond['s Empire Furniture and Appliance Stores], are you? [laughter]


King

Nat Diamond; then there was Kunin Furniture store, the quality places. There was also one Asian who even,


307
well, that far back, had a clothing store at Forty-Sixth [Street] and Central that made it. Now, these people worked in the community too. Every time there were good causes, well, they were there. When it was necessary to give away a television set for some particular raffle or project or something, they participated. They were the prime backers of the black newspapers.


Tyler

What, in terms of ads?


King

In terms of the money to get the printing done. They did not go way out of their way to influence what was said in those papers. But then, on the other hand, because of the fact that they carried the major ads in those newspapers, it certainly did tend to moderate the level of criticism, unless the particular merchant or merchants had gone beyond reasonable violence. So they were able to keep somewhat of a balance in the community. And, again, they showed up at many of the major events and other kind of things. So they were not impossible people to live with. They did, basically, as time went on—if you go way back, of course, they did not hire blacks—but as time went on, most of their employees were black. So they did begin to integrate into the neighborhood, the white business people, to a good extent.


Tyler

They actually, well, responded to the black protest that insisted that they didn't resist it. Not overwhelmingly


308
so, anyway.


King

There was a resistance, if you go back to the fifties.


Tyler

Oh, really?


King

I'm sorry—


Tyler

The thirties?


King

Yeah, to the thirties.


Tyler

The Depression, yeah.


King

There was a resistance at that point to— You had basically the white owner, and you had a situation where there were community protests in order for blacks to get employment. Even the five-and-ten-cent store—


Tyler

[S. H.] Kress [and Company Variety Stores].


King

—at one time, yeah, it did not employ [blacks]. And it created a picket line, and that was the major confrontation situation that occurred. But I think that clearly the white business people could see that it was in their self-interests, because, number one, they had a cheaper labor supply that was out there, and if they were reasonably selective they could find good employees. So what was a big thrust, of course, on the part of the community, awakened the white community to find that, hey, it's easier to do business by hiring people in the community who can virtually walk to work. It is also, again, the opportunity to be able to pick and choose at the


309
lowest possible price. So, as time went on, of course, the Jewish community more and more and more used black front personnel; the people you were interacting with were beginning to become black to a large extent.


Tyler

Did you or anyone else perceive that that presented a problem for the rise of independent black businesses because now it was hard to distinguish between a black business and a black-fronted business? Did you perceive any problem with that then?


King

No, because we knew the community; the community was still comparatively small. And since we knew the community so well, we knew which businesses were black-owned and which businesses were not. We were around the people, everybody who worked in these places, so it was kind of difficult to do a front. After all, you know, we lived in the community, we ate in the community, we socialized in the community, so we knew everyone in the communities. It was not a situation where the front kind of thing was easily available at that particular point. Now, at later points, when there was a rapid movement of businesses—rapid meaning really over a period of a number of years—it did become more difficult to determine whether or not there was white financing behind some of the businesses. But to a large extent, the white financing was more in the form of loans anyway: loans or credit or balances that were due


310
against the sale price businesses and other kind of things.


Tyler

Was there any consciousness of black business groups feeling that they were competing with these whites, or they just didn't think in those terms?


King

Well, we were competing basically against whites for a long, long period of time, and, by and large, there were even white professionals that were in the area who were white doctors, white dentists, that were still in the area. As those individual kind of practitioners did—meaning the white practitioners—did go out occasionally, you would find a situation where, say, a dental firm would come in, and they would offer better credit terms (or at least they would advertise better credit terms), and they would talk about the ease in which it was to acquire their services. And, of course, there was not as much in terms of local advertising budget to compete with those budgets. And there were also people that were outside the community that were advertising inside the community. People who were, say, lawyers, who were down in the Spring Street section; white lawyers and very few black lawyers were downtown at that time. So they advertised their services by the means that was done at that time. Advertising to a large extent was— How much time's left on this tape?


Tyler

Oh, maybe twenty minutes, I guess. Okay. We have been still talking about business. Now, blacks never


311
economically—or did they?—dominate Central Avenue.


King

No. In terms of the major businesses that were there, the major corners that were there and the major, more expensive real estate, it was basically dominated by the Jewish group, similar to other urban black areas in this country. The Jewish group was there. But they had sort of a humanistic approach to being able to function. And I would certainly not say that they were benevolent to a fault [laughter] by any means, but they did respond to those things that in their perception were for the benefit of the community and not anti their interests.


Tyler

Now, did they come to Central Avenue as blacks clustered there, or they were already there, because didn't Italians tend to live and dominate the area before blacks began to spread further south?


King

Yeah, there were Italians that were there. Somehow, the Italians, whether it be true or not true, their perception got involved with the gambling element, with the numbers, the bookmaking, that kind of a situation. And it was very clear that the chief of police, and I've forgotten exactly when [William H.] Parker went in, I think maybe '37—


Tyler

Nineteen fifty. Parker became chief in 1950.


King

Okay, well, back starting in the late thirties, I guess, early forties, Parker began to be an influence as


312
far as South L.A. was concerned and the whole city. He was the clean guy coming up, and others like him, of course, the people at the top, were sometimes under suspect for one reason or another. But Parker was on the rise, and I think that he's the person who was the basic architect of saying that black gambling would be controlled by black folks and if there was to be vice in the black community, well, I guess it would be controlled by blacks. But there would always be certain kind of limits on it to see to it that it operated at a tolerably low kind of approach. The design at one time, I think, going far enough back, was simply to leave the area alone. And, of course, leaving the area alone, they had some shortcomings.


Tyler

Well, wait a minute now. You're actually talking about Frank [L.] Shaw, who tolerated that during the thirties, saying that that was a form of employment. Then there was the whole movement to recall Shaw because of the so-called payoffs of Central Avenue gambling, prostitution, and, well, prior to '32 or '33, the bootleg activities that had been occurring. Because Parker actually came in saying he was going to clean up the whole city and run organized crime out, and felt that the black community of Central Avenue was almost, well, [a] red-light district.


King

And he turned it around. [laughter] No question. I think one of his ways of turning it around was to prevent


313
the infusion of non-community participants in terms of gambling and other kind of things. Now, they kept the heat on them on a consistent basis, year in and year out, but that was on the basis that the only thing you can do is to kind of control crime, that you can't actually eliminate it.


Tyler

Well, now, did Parker play a big role in the decline of Central Avenue, if any?


King

No, I don't think so. I think it would be easy to say that he did, but I think what he probably did was to cause it to sustain itself—certainly, the surrounding community where that was residential—so that it was still a reasonable place to live. It never really declined totally as far as a place to live. A lot of the people there were homeowners, had families, [and] raised their kids there; it was not a bad place to grow up.


Tyler

Now, there's been charges that Parker harassed interracial couples; he didn't approve of the patronage of Hollywood people there. If there's any connection in what you're saying that he didn't want any outsiders spreading corruption in Central Avenue, would there be any connection with the Hollywood crowd coming there for social life, thinking that that would go over into gambling or prostitution or too much interracial contact for some conservative police chief?



314
King

Well, you had the reverse integration situation, in that the whites no longer had to go to Central Avenue in order to be around blacks. Because as integration opened up, a lot of the white clubs had a large black patronage. And as a result of that, it was possible to go to Berg's place on Vine [Street]—


Tyler

Billy Berg?


King

Yeah, and there find a well-integrated house.


Tyler

And black jazzmen. [laughter]


King

Yeah, so the black jazz people that had been playing on Central Avenue moved there. You know, they had people go where they can get work, and that work became accessible. And, of course, those clubs were open, and anyone could go there, so you just had a situation where two things were occurring at the same time, like— Maybe three dimensions were occurring: one, that it was more difficult to do business on the Central Avenue situation, and even another thing logistically, those people had further to go in order to get to Central. They had the opening up of the new integrated kind of spaces so they could step into those integrated spaces, and they would be around the whole black scene. It got to a point, of course, where the big black bands were playing all over, and the smaller trios and other popular-attraction folk were moving too. Now, the blues, oddly enough, didn't seem to really catch on in the


315
white community. And to hear blues to a large extent—this is my perception, of course, and I think I was reasonably close to it—you still had to go to Central Avenue. But blues, because it had been such a mainstay for such a long period of time, was not the most attractive kind of new thing on the block. The most attractive new thing on the block was the big-band sound and the world of swing moving in with the Fletcher Henderson band. Then, as you go through those, you had the situation of the little trio that Benny Goodman dealt with, with a black piano player—


Tyler

Of course, Nat [King] Cole had his famous trio here [that] played around.


King

Yes, Nat [King] Cole had come out of the purely black community in Chicago but was moving more into white circles for a number of reasons: one, they could make more money, and number two, they had an opportunity to break into new areas of clientele that would be supportive of their operation.


Tyler

It was also charged that with Parker becoming police chief, and you mentioned the problem of parking, that there were a lot of tickets being given out on Central Avenue or in that area. People overparking or parking—


King

Oh, and how there were! Every day, when the four-thirty to six period and the parking beyond the time limit— They really overworked that community.



316
Tyler

Was it done, say, exceptionally on Central Avenue compared to other areas?


King

I would say clearly.


Tyler

Why?


King

I think just to some extent it was a method of kind of controlling the community. It prevented people from staying in some places for long periods of time, and, basically, it slowed down commerce. People that used to go there, after they get a couple tickets, they just wouldn't, wouldn't go back.


Tyler

Do you think that was a conscious effort to break up the black community, or what?


King

Well, it was kind of done under the guise of it being a traffic control so that there would be more room on Central Avenue for the traffic flow and those kind of things. And what the bottom line was I'm not a hundred percent certain, because merchants themselves could have— [tape recorder off] Where were we? I'm sorry.


Tyler

We were talking about the ticketing on Central Avenue and how it was so heavy that it tended to keep people away from socializing or doing business there.


King

Yeah, I don't know whether or not even businessmen were involved, because I imagine—


Tyler

No, I mean in terms of people coming into the shop or whatever when other areas became open or more


317
prestigious to go to, I guess.


King

Yeah, well, the point I'm trying to stress is that if you have a limited amount of parking space, and the people come and park all day, it can likewise inhibit business contacts, just as if you get the overticketing. So it was, maybe, six one way and four another way. But the situation of heavy ticketing became very well known throughout the city. In fact, even the guy who was working that three-wheeler, he became very well known, too, as giving out tickets. He probably gave out more tickets than anybody in the history of this city.


Tyler

Well, who was that?


King

It's hard for me to remember the police officer's name, but—


Tyler

Black police officer?


King

Yeah, black police officer. In fact, he retired a few years ago; he still has the reputation of being the number one ticket person in L.A. But he did a job—


Tyler

That wasn't Sid Henricks, was it?


King

No, no, no. Sid was—


Tyler

Seventh [Street] and Central.


Volume II


318

Tape Number: IX, Side One
July 14, 1985

figure

Tyler

Okay, I think we'll start with asking you the question, which did you get involved with first, civil rights activity or political activity?


King

I really kind of got involved with civil rights activity in the early forties. I had a clear concern for the problems and the plight certainly of blacks, and I guess I've somewhat understood that other minorities were having similar problems. But I was a little bit preoccupied with blacks, and, of course, with the war coming along for the first year. Plus, I wasn't particularly concerned with the situation of civil rights or integration, because I was simply totally occupied and consumed going through the flying program down at Tuskegee [Institute]. But shortly after I had completed that, I was back into that sort of a thought.

Politically, on the other hand, I began to move in that direction a little bit in 1948. I got a little bit involved at that point because I was a supporter of Harry [S.] Truman. Truman had had a lot to do with what happened to blacks during the period, the latter part of World War II, and he had also been the person who, back in, oh, I guess it was 1939 when he was a senator, who carried a piece of legislation to allocate some dollars for black


319
aviators and back the training of black aviators. So I had always had a very good concern for Truman. Truman, too, is the person who gave out the executive order that there be no more discrimination in the armed services. I can't really remember exactly when he did that, but—


Tyler

Nineteen forty-eight.


King

`Forty-eight was when he ran for office.


Tyler

But that was one of his first agendas. Actually, though, it was a gradual process.


King

It was a gradual process, and it was fairly clear that it was going to occur. He had, I guess it was the secretary of the navy make that statement and, coming from the secretary of the navy, where if you passed all the entry exams with flying colors and you went into the navy they would ask you, "How is your ability at being a steward?" Because you could only work in the galley when you were in the navy. Blacks had not moved to that point. We have come a long way, because now you have General Frank [E.] Petersen [Jr.], who now is a two-star general with the marines; and, of course, he really came out of the navy because he was a naval pilot, and the top 10 percent of the class of the naval pilots go into the marines. So things have changed considerably, and Harry Truman was one of those who moved it along.

I was very, very pro-integration at that particular


320
point and really thought that there was a reasonableness to the premise that we would be able to easily integrate this country, and that pro-integration was being pro-American, as I saw it. I wasn't even particularly interested in joining black organizations for a short period of time there, because I felt—and obviously I was over-optimistic at that point—but I was younger and I had the zeal to feel that it would be possible that the issue of race would be an issue that had been resolved and set aside and was behind us. And, of course, here we are today, and the issues are just as clear today as they have been for many years going all the way back, prior to the Civil War. I think that we do have separate societies, societies that were described, I believe, as far back as 1944, as really two societies: a black society and a white society. I think that today my view would be that we have many societies that are here, and that, however, we can interact. We can commingle things, [and] we can still come out with a very good kind of a society. But there will be the need for individual ethnic groups to have their own caucus type, their own sort of support groups, in order to make things stay somewhat in balance. So I moved in starting with Harry Truman; I supported his election. It was not a reelection because [Franklin D.] Roosevelt had died, and he assumed the presidency after Roosevelt's
321
death.

In 1951, I got involved in my first political campaign, and that was here; well, when I say first, first in a serious way and one that was sort of a hands-on that you could see the impact of it, and that was Roger Arnebergh for city attorney. That was a long time ago. And from that it continued on. I—


Tyler

How did you happen to get involved? You just interjected yourself, or did someone sort of pave the way for you to get involved, or what?


King

Well, I think I was really just waiting on more time. I finished school, finished what I— At least, I thought I had finished at that point, and I got a bachelor's. And I opened up my own bail bonds shop, and I was involved in activities around the courthouse, which meant the city attorneys and district attorneys and that entire criminal justice process. So at that particular point that's when I began to get involved politically.


Tyler

Now, did that continue, or fluctuate? What practically did you do? Did you join a Democratic party club, or were you pretty much an independent Democrat, or what?


King

Well, I never have been a Democrat. At one time, I signed as an independent, which was really a situation where you simply make no choice. It had some shortcomings.


322
It was a "decline to state" sort of a situation. But you had no opportunity to have any impact during the primaries. So I saw that wasn't exactly my cup of tea. At that point I registered a Republican. Now, my entire family had been Republican, just like many of the black families that had; if you go far enough back, they were almost all Republican.


Tyler

Before 1932.


King

Right, and then at that time—


Tyler

Well, actually '36 was when blacks made the big change.


King

Yeah. In 19[36] my family did not change, though. They stayed Republican, and I felt fairly comfortable joining the Republican party because of just the tradition at that particular point.


Tyler

You joined when?


King

I think it was about '52 that I moved my registration from "decline to state"—maybe it was '51, I'm not too sure—"decline to state" to the Republican party. Now, for a while there, I was going to night school, and I was also earning a living, and I, of course, [had] the family commitments—we had three little kids. I just didn't have time for politics or anything else going into the—


Tyler

—early fifties.



323
King

Well, up through 1950, I just did not have time for it. My concern was always there, and I knew that if I had the opportunity, I would be getting more involved.


Tyler

Why did your family never shift like the majority of blacks did from Republican to Democratic? From '36 onward, when '36 is the major shift for blacks.


King

Well, when we were in Chicago, one of the things that occurred was that my mother [Leontyne Butler King] was working at a dress shop—and this is back when jobs were very, very hard to get—and she understood fashions very well and was an excellent buyer. She worked for a dress store on Forty-seventh Street near South Park Way, which by the way has been renamed Martin Luther King Drive, meaning South Park has. And my mother was doing quite well back during the Depression. She was making an enormous sum of $35 a week, which was a lot of money back in those days. [laughter] It's hard to imagine, but it really was. It was a lot of money. And what happened was the union people, who were all Democrats, came in, and they wanted to unionize the store. My mother had worked her way up to being the buyer, and there were very few black buyers back in those days. What happened was they were putting pressure on her to join the union. And they were all basically the— It was the Democrat effort to do so. And we weren't opposed to unions by any means, nor were we


324
opposed to people getting fair wages; back in those days, people were making two dollars a day, three dollars a day, and we were interested in them being moved up. But we were not interested in my mother losing her job. And it turned out to be a situation where there was a lot of intimidation that came through—


Tyler

Can you name some of the tactics used?


King

Yeah, well, some of the tactics were that, in addition to the picket-line things that they had that they were putting up— These were little small operations; these were not the big operations. They weren't attacking the Wall Street, Walgreen drugstores, or the major businesses. What was happening is they were just isolating the small businesses at that time and forcing them to knuckle under. Well, the fellow who owned the shop said that he was not going to—who owned this dress shop—said that, and it was one of the larger dress shops. But still, on a comparative basis, it was no downtown-department-store type situation. So they— In the process, my mother, of course, sided with management there. I guess they had maybe a dozen people or so that were working as sales clerks and along those particular lines. And all of the people that were identified with the union were also identified with the Democratic party, and they just gave us a bad time, my mother in particular, and I simply just made


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the decision at that point that, hey, I don't want to be involved in that kind of situation. I just thought that if they were going to really attack somebody, that they should be making some major moves and not these little miniscule moves that were going to not affect over a few people. And I was a youngster at the time, but the whole thing made no sense to me. You know, they had five-and-ten-cent stores on the same street with a hundred and fifty employees and other large establishments, and they were doing nothing against the people who could defend themselves, just moving against the small. Now, I guess the union movement had to do whatever they felt was necessary in order to move, but we didn't really perceive it so much as union as we perceived it as Democratic politics.


Tyler

Any particular reason?


King

The players. The people that were involved at that point were basically all the local Democrats that were involved. Most of the union people at that point were. And again, we were not antiunion by any means, and we still are not antiunion by any means. But at that particular point, when it was threatening whether or not we would be able to continue to survive, you'd be surprised how pragmatic you can look at things, even at a young age. I mean, I still wanted to have a bicycle, you know. And I wasn't that much into politics that I didn't want my mother


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to have a job. [laughter]


Tyler

No, I understand that. I came up and was involved in radical politics, and we had three unions on one job. Came to work, and the Teamsters were out there picketing. We didn't go in; our shop steward made a call to our union. He says, "We're in negotiation. The Teamsters are not cooperating with us. They have no district strike sanction; you have to go into work and cross their picket line, it's not a legal or legitimate picket line. If you don't and they fire you, then we have no legal basis to protect you." And the other side was saying, "C'mon, let's wildcat, go out with us." And I was very pragmatic; I had a job, an apartment. I was out on my own, you know, can't go back to momma no more. And I had to square with the reality, [laughter] so I know what you mean in terms of those situations when it really hits you. You can talk about it in back rooms, but when you're right upon it, [laughter] the reality of power and reality hits you.


King

Sure, we were concerned with trying to make it then. My parents were the kind of people who would not accept relief, so our choices were, we had to almost always just pretty well stand fast and protect our interests and fight for survival. But I think that the ethic was a good ethic, and again, we want people to get fair wages, and we have always tried as much as we could; consistent upon the


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amount of dollars that we gross, we've always tried to pay reasonable wages given the industry, and we've always respected the people that have been employed by us.


Tyler

Did you ever have any strikes or labor problems at the Dunbar Hotel?


King

No, we didn't ever have any. In fact, it was one of the better paying hotel-type jobs around. So the people that had those jobs held onto them pretty good.


Tyler

So you did have a big turnover then.


King

No, we didn't have a big turnover. I mean, even down to the bellhops that were there. They wanted those jobs because the tips were better there than they were elsewhere. The people that were involved at the bar and at the grill, that was contracted out. And those people, by and large, were making more money on tips than most people were making for salaries, because it was the place where there was a lot of action. And there was day action, and night action. Even the other places that were around, there were more bartenders than there were slots available in bars for them to work. So people pretty well held onto those jobs. And there was also the fact that they had the opportunity to, at early stages, to meet and see and interact with major figures in the country. So it had a lot of redeeming benefits, and there were no [jobs]. My uncle [James Nelson] by no means was kind to a fault, but


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he did, whenever possible, tend to help the people who were employees. He too was a waiter for the railroads, so he understood those things very well. His sensitivity [laughter] had not left him by any means. In fact, we have never had any labor problems as such, but again, we have always tried to see to it that everybody does get a reasonable shake. Now, that doesn't mean that anybody was going to get rich by working for us. On the contrary, there was no way to do so. But we were always par or above par in terms of the wages that we paid.


Tyler

Now, in terms of politics, you did go for and support with your vote some campaign, or speak for Truman because of his racial policies? But still there was no continued commitment. What happened? Why?


King

Well, I'll tell you. When, by the time '52 came around and Adlai [E.] Stevenson was there, Adlai Stevenson was not able to break through totally as far as the black community was concerned. There were an awful lot of blacks who went for [Dwight D.] Eisenhower.


Tyler

Why?


King

Well, you had a high veteran population from World War II, and there were still an awful lot of people who identified with him. He was not a negative factor as far as blacks were concerned. He didn't do that much for them, by any means, but he was not one of those generals who was


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running around saying what blacks did not do. He didn't have, say, the negative reputation that, a Mark [W.] Clark had—


Tyler

Who was Mark Clark?


King

Mark Clark? He was a commanding general in the Italian theater. Great military man. And whether it be true or not true, they had all these kind of things going around that he was anti-black.


Tyler

Did he speak out against blacks? He was unhappy with black participation morale or fighting capacity, or what?


King

Well, I can simply say this, that was just the general reputation of Mark Clark, that he was not interested in giving blacks the opportunity to fight, and basically that they were not as good as soldiers as whites. That was just a general reputation now. Whether or not there was a real basis for that reputation, I'm not in the position to say, but to this day, of all the people that I've ever run into that have discussed him—soldiers, etc.—I have only heard one person say anything favorable about Mark Clark, that is black. Now, that does not necessarily— Maybe he's simply just—


Tyler

Was that true of [George S.] Patton?


King

No, no. Patton—unlike the movie, no. Patton had blacks under his command, and he utilized them. A soldier


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was a soldier with Patton.


Tyler

Now, what about General [Edwin A.] Walker? He's into the fifties of Korea [and] went around denouncing blacks and integration.


King

Yeah, he was a little bit later in the game, but I think, by and large, that it was the general attitude of most people that were at a high level. I doubt seriously if most white commanders had much regards for black soldiers, even though black soldiers had performed quite well and had received many medals of valor throughout many years. I think that the generals and the higher echelon basically just did not think much about blacks. But it was a whole societal kind of a situation. I mean, like, blacks that were with us at Tuskegee, we could not use the local facilities; you couldn't go bowling, you couldn't go to the restrooms. They had to hand you a sandwich out of the side of the restaurant. I think the whole society was that way.


Tyler

Yeah. Well, actually, it was the army. Plus, the army, or the military, had a formal policy of segregation.


King

Clearly.


Tyler

But now, isn't it true, or is it not true, that Eisenhower testified in opposition to integrating the armed services?


King

He probably did, because he was probably no different, but he was kind of low profile on it. He did


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come out and make the statement that he was going to integrate Washington, D.C.


Tyler

He was going to?


King

Yeah, that was one of his campaign promises.


Tyler

You mean, socially or the military there or what? You mean the public facilities there?


King

Public facilities.


Tyler

That was one of his campaign promises?


King

Said he was going to strike them all down. And he did. He did. And, of course, then everyone knew that if you did it in Washington, D.C., that it would be somewhat of a model for the rest of the country—


Tyler

I was unaware of that. That was a campaign commitment of his, what, in '48?


King

'Fifty-two.


Tyler

'Fifty-two, I mean. And he actually followed through with it?


King

[long pause] Yeah. And he got a good vote in '56. He got a good vote, black vote. Not only that, he had blacks that were high up in his administration that were visible—


Tyler

Like, can you name them, or—


King

I guess I'd be straining quite a bit to come up with the names, but maybe in due course I will be able to put some—



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Tyler

Did the Little Rock hurt him or help him with blacks?


King

The Little Rock situation helped him with blacks, but I don't think it was really a black issue with him. They could have been any ethnic group. He was— You don't become a general in the army and expect to have to negotiate with people when you give them an order. And when he gave an order, and they disregarded the order, they could have been lily-white! I mean, it would not make any difference with him; it's a matter of his entire lifetime training. You just don't disregard an order that's given by—and he was still—[a] general. Eisenhower [laughter] was president, and he had a general's mentality. After all, he had been in the armed services all his life.


Tyler

Well, the president is also commander-in-chief of the armed services. [laughter]


King

Yeah, but you had different types of presidents.


Tyler

Yeah.


King

If they were, [laughter] his background was, hey, if I give an order, hey, that order's going to be carried out.


Tyler

But this was the Supreme Court that desegregated in Little Rock; the whole South, the whole country revolted against it, really. And he had to reluctantly enforce the law.


King

Yeah, but once he had to enforce it, he was going to


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enforce it. And, well, that was the Brown [v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 1954] decision, of course. And, it was Central High School in Little Rock. Oh, it was an interesting piece of history, no question about it. But with Eisenhower, he decided something was going to be done, and all of the legal authority was there for it to be done. It was going to be carried out, and that's all there was to it. It was not going to be a situation where the Supreme Court was going to make a statement, and then it had to be carried out. It was just send the federal troops in there and do it.


Tyler

Now, you supported Truman, a Democrat, on personality; then you shifted to Eisenhower, but then most blacks did. How were these events affecting you? Was that an experience, a second experience that would make you even more firm in your Republican politics, or what?


King

Well, Eisenhower made what he called the worst appointment that he ever made, in his view, the appointment of Warren to the Supreme Court.


Tyler

Earl Warren.


King

Earl Warren was California, and I sometimes think back and wonder, was this really the governor of California, because Earl Warren and my uncle were friends.


Tyler

Jimmy Nelson?


King

Yeah.



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Tyler

How did they happen to be friends?


King

My uncle was a Republican, and he used the hotel as a headquarters for Warren when he ran.


Tyler

For governor?


King

Yeah, and how! [laughter] Yeah.


Tyler

And, let's see, Warren was governor in what, the forties, was it?


King

Well, I guess Warren—


Tyler

During the war?


King

Warren was governor, yeah, during the war.


Tyler

Was it after Culbert [L.] Olson was governor up until '42, '38 to '42?


King

Yeah, and he came in after Olson.


Tyler

So it had to be '42, '46. What'd he serve, two terms?


King

I think two plus, because he didn't leave until '53. Eisenhower went in, in '52, and then he appointed Earl Warren when the vacancy occurred.


Tyler

Anyway, I guess you were going to say the impact all of this had on you.


King

Well, the impact was kind of a mixed bag. And it was basically the rhetoric of most of the liberal Democrats, and then the reality that it was Democrats who were on both sides of the issue.


Tyler

Can you explain that?



335
King

Well, I guess the question was always, what kind of a Democrat is a person? And they pretty well covered the gamut, all the way from the Dixiecrat in the South, the boll weevil type, all the way around to the ultraliberal. Well, you had the ultraliberal, which were like the [Hubert H.] Humphreys and the [John F.] Kennedys and that whole—


Tyler

Roosevelt.


King

—yeah, whole crowd. You had Jimmy [James] Roosevelt, who was in Congress at the time—


Tyler

Well, I meant actually his father [Franklin D. Roosevelt].


King

Yeah, but his father really wasn't that liberal, as I view it.


Tyler

In terms of the race issue.


King

You had that all the way to Democrats who were being accused of being, in the terminology that was used, being "pinky" at that particular time. "Pinky" was sort of a code word for being pretty close to the communist-cell type situation.


Tyler

The "fellow traveler," was it?


King

Yeah. So you had then a Democratic party that was almost like a fan that went from one end of the gamut almost to another, because those Democrats that were in the South were ultraconservative in their approach, and as I looked out, it looked like to me that the liberal portion


336
of the Democrats did not offset the very, very conservative approach that was coming out of the South, and a very anti-black situation. And then, of course, I saw time after time that the Dixiecrats and the conservative Republicans would come together for a coalition around some given issue. But then when you are fighting, and I kind of felt this way then, too, you have a tendency to go along with anybody that will go along with you. You don't necessarily choose your support.


Tyler

So, now, are you saying in essence that blacks were basically in the Democratic party following the liberals— But the liberals did not actually dominate the party; the conservatives and the Dixiecrats did. Or, at least, the liberals couldn't get much done in terms of delivering to blacks?


King

They couldn't get very much done, and to their credit, they were the ones who were saying most of the right things at a very critical kind of a period. Over and over, they were talking about the need for equal opportunity, for a chance for people to get jobs and to go into other areas of employment other than those traditional kind of black employment situations. I think, ultimately, that when they did get their way, I think they did probably a considerable amount of harm on one side and a considerable amount of good as far as blacks are concerned on the other


337
hand.


Tyler

This is the liberal Democrats?


King

Yeah, yeah, because the liberal Democrats to some extent measured their success in the amount of dollars that they were able to direct toward the black community. Well, ultimately, if you throw in enough things like that, you will also create the handicap of people being dependent on that kind of a dole out of the government.


Tyler

Okay, then. So you're saying that after your flirtation with Truman, then you found Eisenhower attractive, his commitment to desegregate Washington, then you had to— Did you also share this veteran euphoria with Eisenhower, in terms of having this World War II experience in common, and you voted for him for that reason, or because you were Republican, you voted? What would be your main motivation?


King

Well, Adlai Stevenson did not particularly impress me. He was a very erudite speaker who had just a lot of gimmicks and other kind of phrases that he used to run through, and I used to listen to the quotes and to the phrases. And then I looked at what he had done in Illinois. I had grown up in Illinois; he was the governor there and didn't look like he had done anything in Illinois, so I figured he probably wouldn't be able to do much in Washington. Also, he didn't seem like to me


338
somebody who could get along with both sides. He was so liberal in his enunciations until I knew he wouldn't be able to get anything done. Because at the climate that was out there at that particular time, unless you could be somewhat involved on both sides of the aisle, you just weren't going to get anything done. He stood his ground at all levels and at all times.


Tyler

So, now, with the Kennedy challenge to the Republicans, and [Richard M.] Nixon, I guess you might want to consider California politics. How is it that your commitment continued, your involvement in politics and civil rights? What did you do practically? What was impacting upon you?


King

Well, I was participating with a number of the civil rights approaches: I was involved with CORE [Congress of Racial Equality], involved with NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], and we had a couple of small sort of indigenous groups that were around. We tended to support the concerns of getting blacks into positions of political leadership, which basically meant projects like the two-four plan that came along in the late sixties where we supported that and I ultimately—


Tyler

What's the two-four plan?


King

Two-four plan was in 1960 when the configuration of the voting districts was being changed; it was an effort


339
that was being made to impose upon the state legislature to set up a situation where we could have four assembly districts in the black community and two senatorial districts. So that was the two-four plan, a very, very important kind of a community decision, and quite a bit of work was put into the project—


Tyler

Who were the leaders in that movement?


King

[S.] Wendell Green, who, by the way, is still around, and, let's see, Perry—


Tyler

—Washington?


King

Perry [C.] Parks [Jr.], who is still around; Vaino [H.] Spencer, who's a judge; he is still around. A lawyer by the name of [Edward] Maddox, who is now deceased—he was Loren Miller [Jr.]'s partner.


Tyler

You mean Gordon? Hugh Gordon?


King

No.


Tyler

Not Hugh Gordon, Walter [L.] Gordon, [Jr.].


King

Walter was around and participated in Republican politics at that time; in fact, he ran for office. He ran for the state assembly.


Tyler

In what, 1960?


King

Oh, it's hard to remember exactly what year it was, but it was probably about '60, because Gus [Augustus F.] Hawkins was in at the time, and in '62 Gus went to Congress.



340
Tyler

Yes.


King

So, yeah, it was probably just about that time.


Tyler

Now, was the organization leading this the Democratic Minority Conference?


King

It was basically made up of Democrats.


Tyler

But there was an actual group called the Democratic Minority Conference.


King

Right. No, it was not.


Tyler

No?


King

There was probably a little crossfire in there, though. But, no, it was a separate group, and they did their political work on drawing the boundaries and other kind of things of what was our position as a community. And the two-four made a lot of sense; we've ended up today with possibly the direct results of that: we have [Diane] Watson and [William] Greene as two state senators, and we have three people in the [state] assembly. So they did pretty well.


Tyler

But most of these blacks ran and were elected as Democrats.


King

All of them that ran and were elected were elected as Democrats.


Tyler

And you supported all of this?


King

Oh, yeah. I didn't have any problem with that.


Tyler

So then you were mainly supporting black political


341
power in terms of race politics and not partisan politics.


King

Absolutely.


Tyler

So, why did— Did you support John F. Kennedy for his presidency and then Lyndon Baines Johnson?


King

No. I did not support either one, but I was very impressed with Kennedy. The convention in 1960 took place here in Los Angeles, and the [Los Angeles] Sports Arena was where they had all of the general meetings. And at that time, I threw a party for the black delegates to the Democratic convention.


Tyler

Despite the fact you were Republican?


King

Well, I don't know whether it was despite the fact that I was a Republican. [laughter]


Tyler

[laughter] Although you were a Republican.


King

[laughter] Yeah. And some people still remember the party that I threw.


Tyler

Yeah? [laughter]


King

At that time—


Tyler

That was here?


King

Right here, yeah. At my house.


Tyler

Did you get any backlash from your Republican—or were you active in the Republican party or committee here?


King

I was active in the Republican party, but blacks who were here as delegates were significant in the black movement across the country. And I was involved in making


342
things occur and happen in a movement and also in Republican politics. So I didn't see any particular conflict.


Tyler

Okay.


King

I had a, as recent as last year, fellow who was in Ohio who is a judge there now. In fact, when he was here, he was the youngest black judge in America. He is still on the bench back there, and he's, of course, worked his way pretty well to the top now. But, he sent word to say hello to me not too long ago.


Tyler

So did you actively campaign for Kennedy?


King

No, no, I did not.


Tyler

Did you vote for him, or for Nixon?


King

I voted for Nixon. I did not see that Kennedy had any particular background that would cause me to think—



343

Tape Number: IX, Side Two
July 14, 1985

Tyler

Well, we were making some distinctions between your support of black civil rights people and your political vote. Now, I know you as an activist Republican. Were you an activist Republican then in the fifties, early sixties, or were your Republican politics sort of private and you were pretty much into civil rights then?


King

I was into both; I was an activist Republican inside of the party, constantly talking about the same issues that I was talking about on civil rights. The level of receptiveness probably, if measured, would not have been as high, at least certainly in terms of the rhetoric, as it was over on the Democratic side. But the Democrats, too, really were not that liberal. It just was that they were a step or so in front of the Republicans. But there wasn't anybody who was really making any major steps in terms of crossing the line. No, we could not buy where we chose to in the late fifties, even though a lot of areas had opened up. And as far back as 1948, there had been local decisions that tended to inch away at the covenants, the protective covenants that were built into deeds, and ultimately, of course, the Supreme Court indicated that these type of covenants which restricted who, based on ethnic background, could buy the land, those were deemed


344
unenforceable. But you still could not get the realtors to go along, and you were pretty restricted in terms of where you could live. So the Democrats again were talking a more liberal stance, but it was only on a comparative basis. There were still, throughout most of the country, all sorts of problems. There wasn't an "A" place you could stop in many areas in California, Palm Springs being one of those places. We have a tendency to kind of forget some of the real problems that were around at that time. When we looked at the number of commissioners that we had in Los Angeles, I think we had like two black commissioners at that time— [tape recorder off]


Tyler

Okay, [laughter] we're back on track here now.


King

Okay, I was referring to 1960 at the time that the Democratic convention took place here at the L.A. Sports Arena. In terms of the number of people that we had in the state legislature, there were only two elected officials, one out of Berkeley and one out of Los Angeles. They were both in the assembly, so—


Tyler

Hawkins—


King

Hawkins was one and the other fellow was a pharmacist out of Berkeley. Can't put my finger on his name at the time, but I knew him quite well, and he had been a houseguest with us; he had been over several times. [William Byron Rumford] But there again, when you


345
were talking about Democrats, you almost had to say something that would talk about the style of that particular Democrat. Because just being a Democrat at that particular time when you look at the entire horizon or wherever you were looking, you could find a Democrat to fit in that particular slot, that section of it. The Republicans were much more collectively reserved along that particular line. And in 1961 I got fairly active in terms of the [Samuel W.] Yorty campaign because there wasn't enough progress that was being made here in this city. [Norris] Poulson and I had an excellent personal rapport. He and his wife [Erna Loennig Poulson] had been guests in my home, so I certainly did not have any social problem with them at all.


Tyler

What was the occasion?


King

The occasion was at— I think we had a little get-together for my grandmother [Sadie Nelson King] at that time, and we invited them over, and they came over. In fact, I still have some pictures of my grandmother with the Poulsons right here, right in the front row.


Tyler

Now, this Republican connection in California started with Jimmy Nelson and the Dunbar Hotel being a campaign headquarters, or the black— Was it sort of the black connection in the Republican politics in the area?


King

Oh, yeah. It was. It was a key political


346
situation. Because the hotel was so easily available and accessible and noticeable [it] could be very effectively used as a political headquarters. It had a mezzanine floor, and that meant that the mezzanine could be used for a variety of activities, and one of those things was political.


Tyler

The black activists or notables in the area never objected, or felt—


King

No. There was no particular problem at that point.


Tyler

You know, one of the things that just dawned on me is that I'm thinking in terms of present-day black leadership positions [of] hostility toward Republicans. And I was just naturally reading that back, and I said, "Wait a minute. That couldn't be possible." Because here you come in out of the fifties when blacks were very favorable toward Republicans and the Democratic southern wing was the violent wing, suppressing blacks despite they were all in the same party. And blacks had voted for Eisenhower two terms, and when Kennedy came along, there was no big reserve of black hostility toward Republicans. That's something that comes much later.


King

It does.


Tyler

So this is where it dawned on me in talking that I had to keep that in mind. And you can see the question I just asked you was charged with that attitude, that how


347
could you function when blacks would be hostile toward Republicans. Well, that's something that comes later.


King

It comes starting, oh, I guess, '62 through— It began to creep in '63 more, '64, '65, and from there on it just ran rampant.


Tyler

Because actually now, in '60, Kennedy had to win blacks back over into the Democratic camp, right?


King

Well, he had a margin—


Tyler

In terms of the presidential kind of campaign.


King

He had a margin, and, of course, he had the benefit of being able to play around with the Martin Luther King [Jr.] situation by making the telephone call to Coretta [Scott] King when he was in custody, and that was a real plus. Nixon had the opportunity to make the call and chose not to.


Tyler

Now, was that okay then? Was this crucial? Were you conscious of these alternatives then? That there was a possibility of the Democrats carrying the civil rights football or the Republicans? Were you conscious of that and had been trying to do something with that?


King

Oh, yeah. That had been one of the things that we had consistently made efforts to try to focus attention on: the need for change in terms of the attitude of the hierarchy of the party. And by the way, as time goes on, it does go full swing, but at that particular point, it was


348
not a situation that was very susceptible to change.


Tyler

Why?


King

Well, I think you had a— The bulwark of the Republicans were basically conservative, and these were the people that were making things happen in the Republican party. So those conservatives tended to kind of stick together, and there was no particular outreach for blacks. They weren't making any heavy effort. And then, too, you have to remember it was the person that was running against Kennedy, even though I had a personal, excellent rapport with a person who had been, of course, the former vice president and the former senator from here, and had known him for a long period of time on a one-to-one basis. In fact, after he lost the presidency and didn't have much to do, it wasn't too unusual for my wife, Anita [Givens King], and I and Dick Nixon and Pat [Patricia Ryan Nixon], and one other couple—that was Cris [Crispus A.] Wright and his wife Helen—we'd go to dinner and social functions and those kind of things together on a fairly regular basis. I was not completely hung up with the true-believer concept between '60 and '62. I rather suspected at all times that things were going to work out and that they were on the road. I did not at that particular time envision that the road would be all cobblestones. [laughter] I thought that at some point along the line,


349
dealing with intelligent people who, when you were with them on a one-to-one basis, reacted quite well. But somewho, politically, it just did not translate into that.


Tyler

Because of the political pressures for people in suburbs and other areas who felt threatened by civil rights and integration and the black push for opportunities.


King

So as time went on I was just greatly concerned with making these changes. I was at a point where my income was beginning to go up to a point where I felt that I should be able to take my children, take my spouse pretty [much] anyplace that we chose to go. We had started going to Las Vegas on occasion back, oh, in 1955.


Tyler

Was it segregated then?


King

Totally segregated. But—


Tyler

You just couldn't go to the hotels or the casinos or nothing? They would bar you?


King

Every one of them.


Tyler

How would they do it? Was it by law, or was it a policy that everyone knew, or when you came somehow you were out of place, or what?


King

It was a policy that was over there and that may have been supported to some extent by law, but, basically it was a policy. In 1954 we had a friend whose name was Fox, and Fox had been in the liquor business, and my dad [Celestus A. King, Jr.] had been in the liquor business


350
too. And he bought a place that was right on the corner from the strip and was called Foxy's.


Tyler

Oh, that's one of the second places I stopped— Foxy's, that little casino-restaurant-club and all that?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Oh. You get Whiskey Pete's, then Foxy's just as you get right into the edge of Vegas? Or right into Vegas?


King

It's, yeah, it's right on the far end of the strip.


Tyler

It's still there?


King

Yeah. Well, Foxy went over there and—


Tyler

That was a black— Is that a—


King

A white guy, a Jewish guy.


Tyler

Oh.


King

And Foxy's always been a friend. I mean, he was always around our store. Yes, we bought things from him, but he and my dad were in the [Southern California] Liquor Dealers Association together, and they'd raise money for various politicans and for various philanthropic groups. He was just a nice guy who was a business guy, and he and my dad related quite well. He had other blacks that were friends and when he went over there, he opened up his place, and he opened it up without restrictions. That was the first place along there that was open, and it just so happened we knew him quite well.


Tyler

So did that place boom because of his multiracial


351
policies?


King

No, I think it boomed because of the location and because of the fact that he went over there with a different type of a sandwich. He went over there with sort of these French dip-type sandwiches that were thick with the meat and, you know, that kind of situation, and heavy with the onions and all that. And fine. They were just great sandwiches. In early 1955 I had occasion to be coming through Las Vegas, and I was driving, and I stopped there, and that was the only place you could eat, other than on the west side. I went in, talked to Foxy, and— The black entertainers could not eat in the places where they were even playing.


Tyler

Oh, in '55 they were allowed to come and play there?


King

Oh, yeah. You had Nat King Cole and—


Tyler

But wait a minute, Nat King Cole, 1957, live At the Sands was the first—I got that album—I think that was the first breakthrough then.


King

Okay, now, I'm not exactly sure on the year—


Tyler

Unless that's the big, major attraction. Maybe they were doing minor, what they call it, lounge stuff, rather than the big—


King

They were doing feature shows—


Tyler

—cocktail shows rather than the lounge shows,


352
which were the big shows.


King

They were doing big shows. Sammy Davis, Jr., was doing it. No, it could be '55, '56 or so, because I went up there kind of consistently starting in '55. When I went through there in early '55, I stopped by this place on the west side where they were building the Moulin Rouge. They had not completed it. And I walked in and, of course, I was aware that Joe Louis was going to be acting as the maitre'd there and that this was going to be just one heck of a place.


Tyler

That was going to be the black—


King

That was going to be the black strip.


Tyler

Blacks didn't own it, but they were going to cater to the black trade?


King

Right. And it was on the west side. It's still there, by the way, the building is, and it's still a nice building. It was only recently, as I understand it, purchased by blacks. But anyway, I walked into this place, and they were building it, and I walked around and I said, "I want to talk to the owner because I want to get reservations here for the opening."

And the guy said, "Well, we're not taking any reservations."

I said, "Well, look, you must not be the owner, because," I said, "I know the owner isn't going to turn


353
down a check." So, anyway, they brought some guy out, and I pointed out the rooms that were around the pool. I said, "I want that one and that one and that one." And I blocked off about a half a dozen rooms. I wrote the guy a check.

And the guy says, "You're the first person who has made any reservations."

"Yeah," I said, "that's fine."

And I had these rooms locked up which were the best ones there, and I knew that there was going to be a real scramble among my little set over here, you know, about going over for the opening. So I made a real big thing out of the fact that I had these rooms tied up, and I gave them away until I gave it down to, I think, three rooms (I had six). I gave three of them away, and that was a big thing. And opening night I pulled up over there, and sure enough, hey, Joe Louis was there when they opened the car door, and I had known him when I was a kid back in Chicago. So this was sort of the good life that was beginning to open up to blacks. A lot of these things were just not open. Hey, when you went to Las Vegas, you stopped at a motel on the west side or you stopped with a friend. That's where it was. You did not stop at any of the hotels, the places on the strips at all. Now, it just so happened that we knew most of the people who were stars and who were playing in the big rooms, that were black, and


354
the only way we were able to get in there was, they had an allocation of space in those—you still had to pay—and, like Nat Cole, we went down as his guest. We were still paying, but I mean we were able to get into the Sands.


Tyler

You could get a hotel, or you could just get into the club's arena?


King

Just into the club arena. Could not gamble.


Tyler

But you could get in and just watch him.


King

Get in and watch the show.


Tyler

And then cut out.


King

And then step on out of there.


Tyler

You could buy drinks and sit at the table.


King

Buy drinks, buy dinner, and sit at the table—


Tyler

But then you always knew that that was limited and it had to be restricted. It was no free-flowing, come-into-the-door, first-server reservation business.


King

No reservations.


Tyler

So the only way you could get in was through that little personal limited deal.


King

That was it.


Tyler

Loopholes.


King

I think the first one that I attended was Sammy Davis, Jr. I had known Sammy since he was a kid, and his father and uncle. Because, you just— Everybody was around the hotel, and those kind of things. And I called Sammy


355
when I was over there, and Sammy arranged for me to be able to bring my little group down. And it was a big thing, because we were stepping out of the Moulin Rouge and being able to go to the strip. I think the name of the place was the Stardust, if I'm not mistaken about it.


Tyler

So, in actuality, this was like the vanguard of integration, very limited, but still, you know—


King

Yeah. Still there.


Tyler

Yeah.


King

And you constantly did hear the situation of, "Oh, you went there?" But very, very few blacks were going in, and frankly, it was kind of unfortunate, because certainly the blacks that were able to pay their way to get into those places and pay for those dinner shows, their money's spent like anyone else's money. And they were not cheap on a comparative basis of what a buck was worth then and what it is now. I mean, you were paying pretty good money back in those days. So, as time went on, one of my commitments to myself was that I was going to help open up that town. And it took a decade, but we did it.


Tyler

Like, what did you do?


King

Well, kind of skipping forward, then, when I became much more active in the movement, we began to relate to the people in Vegas closely. There were certain things that they, certain restraints that they were under, because—



356
Tyler

What do you mean? The musicians? The black musicians, or who?


King

People who lived over in Vegas.


Tyler

Oh, okay.


King

And there were things that we could sort of take a bigger risk on, because we were just in for a short period of time and we were stepping on out of there. And we began to have area meetings over there from time to time, and then about 1967, we just—that's where the line was drawn. It could have been a little bit before then, but I think it was in '67. Could have been in '66. We had, at that time, pretty well broken up all of the situation as far as being able to use the facilities, but we couldn't get anyone to work in these facilities. So the drive was no longer spending the money. The drive was get someone in, get the dealers; that was the real hard situation. It wasn't as hard to break down the situation on equal use of the facilities as it was to get the jobs. So that was when we made the major push on getting the jobs; prior to that, even though the blacks could spend their money there, they could not work.


Tyler

What was the rationale? That they would offend white patrons or run them off or something?


King

Well, I think one of the biggest things that helped in that town was Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes had long ago


357
forgotten black or white. With him everything was green, and it had something to do with money. And if it was a good move, his decision was always basically in favor of, hey, I have an investment, I want to make money.


Tyler

Wait a minute, but how was that? What did he do in race relations or something?


King

Howard Hughes had bought up four or five of the major hotels.


Tyler

Right. I remember some of that as a little kid, or heard about it.


King

And Howard Hughes was not interested particularly in whatever was done, except that he wasn't going to do anything that would be harmful to his investment. And that was one reason why we were able to make reasonable progress because he saw an opportunity there to broaden his base in terms of business. So, to him, it did not— I mean, the fact is that they had black maids, and they did not have black waiters or maitre'd's or people at the gambling tables. But they had them all over the lounge as musicians. And frankly, I think that he was so— There was such a mysticism about him until it was kind of difficult for people to be able to tell him, hey, look, you should not be doing this or you should be doing something. Because he always operated through surrogates, and nobody could ever really reach him. We had this meeting, and it was in one


358
of his hotels; it was—


Tyler

Oh, you could get in?


King

Oh, yeah, back in, up at this point. But you couldn't work. So until we could get to the point where we could work there, we hadn't accomplished anything except another opportunity to be able to spend the money.


Tyler

But, now, blacks were working in the traditional janitorial, maid, menial jobs, right?


King

Correct.


Tyler

They were working in that regard.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Which is, they were actually in the hotels, but not in the social scene or the gambling scene.


King

They were not in the gambling scene, they were not bartenders, they were not maitre'd's, they were not waiters—


Tyler

Or cooks? Were they cooks?


King

No. I can't say that, but I don't think so. I don't think the culinary was dead. Now, one of the real culprits in that situation was, there again, this protectiveness that belonged to the local people that were there. They were trying—the whites—they were protecting their jobs.


Tyler

But Las Vegas was booming.


King

Las Vegas was booming, but there were still people


359
who felt compelled to protect their jobs. And ultimately, we— I remember that year; the Hughes group was just great. I mean, they had facilities at one of these hotels, and they were going to of course give us anything we could buy, but they also added to those things, because the convention turned out—there was sort of an area convention —turned out to be a lot larger than we had anticipated and—


Tyler

You mean the people participating?


King

Yeah. The number of blacks—


Tyler

And this is all over those jobs.


King

All over the thing about jobs. Yeah.


Tyler

So that put Las Vegas on notice.


King

Put them on notice and we came from all over. They came—


Tyler

But this was going to be a national thrust on Las Vegas, in effect, or at least it was getting off the ground to be—


King

Yeah. Clearly it was. So we were paying for everything there, but the Hughes people were just great. They brought in and hosted a big portion of it, unsolicited you know, just to let them know; they kind of gave us a signal that, hey, they really were not the problem. We didn't know exactly where the problems were, so we put a picket line in front of his [laughter] hotels just like we


360
put one in front of all the others. And the big thing was, who was going to go down to the [International Brotherhood of] Teamsters building because the Teamsters were the big bad guys—


Tyler

Yes, and you, like, get beat up over there—


King

—and everybody was willing, and there were helicopters flying around to watch the picket lines; the national news media was there—


Tyler

Now this was '67 again?


King

Probably was '67, yeah. News media was all over the place, and—


Tyler

This is pretty late in the game, too.


King

It was late in the game, and we were dead serious. We were dead serious.


Tyler

Yeah.


King

And when we went down there in front of the Teamsters— And there were very, very few of us that went down there and we really couldn't stay long. And the funny thing, I don't think they realized that we were really just in no position to keep this thing going. But they, I think, miscalculated the level of our strength, but let me tell you what was sad—


Tyler

But, see, the other thing is, too, even if they did, they say, it's no telling where it's going to go because we know the strength of the civil rights movement


361
nationally so—see, there's an unpredictable element—they don't know, and the riots have been, Watts ['65] and Harlem '64. So, I mean, they couldn't predict when it was going to go because they can't totally determine your strength. You know, nobody could have saw how far this King and all them were going to go. You see what I'm saying?


King

Oh, yeah.


Tyler

Remember that during that time everything was open.


King

Everything was really open.


Tyler

The [Black] Panthers had appeared, major riots all over the country; couldn't you just see a riot in Las Vegas? [laughter]


King

Yeah, when I'm going down the street—


Tyler

[laughter] And they got all of those bulbs and lights that'll break? You know, I bet you they were thinking about that—hey, these Negroes from L.A. will come up here to riot. Anyway—


King

Well, one reason why we wanted— We couldn't even really sustain the picket line because our major effort was designed for a Sunday morning. And we had been there as sort of having our meetings and after each meeting, it's always been kind of traditional in the rights movement to always have social sets afterward, and everybody over there was— There was booze every place you could look, and there were snacks every place you would look, and you'd stay up


362
late at night, so finally we'd get up to Sunday morning to put our troops out. Temperature was 105 degrees.


Tyler

[laughter] And everybody still half-sleeping.


King

[laughter] And all of the press is all over and helicopters up there— I've never seen so many helicopters at one time.


Tyler

Really? These are police helicopters?


King

Well, Hughes had five or six or seven or eight of his own up there watching his property.


Tyler

[laughter] He's got his Hughes helicopter here.


King

And—


Tyler

[inaudible]


King

Well, I don't know.


Tyler

Well, anyway—


King

It's hard to anticipate what they had in mind at that time. You just walked out there and looked up. But the element of the sun, that heat—inside those air-conditioned casions, you know, hey, it was 68 and 70 degrees. And, you know, a combination of hard meetings, the partying and all these things going on for these two days and you've been up day and night and then here goes our picket line and [laughter] we're going out there. And that sun was beating us to death.


Tyler

Why didn't you say, "Let's go in!" and invade them places?



363
King

Well, we had picket lines in front of almost every hotel.


Tyler

Oh, you had— Well, still, that's quite a few people.


King

We had, well, some of them were token in size, but nevertheless, we had them. And what we had to do was we had to just go in and out. We had, a few people would stay out there for a little bit, and would go in, then we'd exchange back and forth and back and forth—


Tyler

Where were the reserves, going into the casinos?


King

No, we were just standing by the doors, you know, just come in and cool off for a little bit and then go back out. And we were all by the doors at these various places.


Tyler

Now, what about the police? What were they—


King

Well, we really weren't causing any; it was—


Tyler

Were the police out in force or were they—


King

Oh, yeah, police were out in force, yeah.


Tyler

I guess they mobilized the hotel security, too?


King

Everybody was out there. And we really didn't have anything in mind other than a peaceful picket line. The only thing that made folk nervous at all was the Teamsters building. And there wasn't anyone in the Teamsters building. But it was just the idea of going and taking on the Teamsters and—


Tyler

Because they had that gangster crime go on. But,


364
now, psychologically, that's looking bad for Las Vegas. Any tourist town that's tied up like that—threat of violence and police all over the place—that tends to scare tourists away. I mean, psychologically, you had a real war going there.


King

We had a lot more going, I think, than we even realized.


Tyler

Which was?


King

We had the fact that we could return, that we had an ongoing program, and that the media was so heavy into this situation they were doing it live, you know, nationally, across the country; and hey, by Monday, Monday night, we were all gone. There wasn't anybody even left in town in Las Vegas. But it did not matter; even I got back. I was still seeing it on the tube Monday.


Tyler

They were still showing it?


King

Still showing it on the tube.


Tyler

So it was a big deal.


King

A big deal.


Tyler

So Las Vegas really got a black eye from that, didn't they?


King

Well, again, you had the big guy over there who was a legitimate businessman who was Howard Hughes. And Howard Hughes was going to bring respectability to that town. There was just no way because he was a respectable


365
businessman. And you could negotiate with those people. So it was a matter then of just pure acceptance in terms of those job situations. And it opened up at that point, and it continued to open up.


Tyler

Was it done through negotiations, or they just started voluntarily recruiting in blacks, or was it supervising where they just sort of opened up the doors and let it be known that, hey, we're applying?


King

We left it with the local blacks there to go ahead and move from there.


Tyler

After this one, this was a one-shot picket, because they did respond afterwards, right?


King

Yeah, there had been a few random situations by the local people, but they didn't have enough troops. And it was too easy to intimidate them because they all had to have jobs, and the job scene over there, you could be washed out in little or nothing. So it was necessary then for them to be very careful about employment. Buck West, who was an M.D., was without question one of the outstanding persons of the movement. Buck died last year, and there was an editorial that someone sent me from Las Vegas—because they knew Buck and I were close friends—where they spoke of the great risks that he took. He had a local black paper over there. I've forgotten the name of it; it might have been the Voice or something like that.


366
Buck wrote his editorials week after week and he participated in the whole political arena. The governor appointed him as a physician for the [Nevada] State Athletic Commission, and, of course, we'd go over occasionally because Ray Robinson would be fighting over there or some of the major fighters, and we used to go over there to see those fights. I'd join with Buck and the governor would be wherever we are, and those kind of things, and have some very elegant meals. It was just a lot of fun. It was a fun town, and we wanted to be able to share in it. Now, what's so odd is that now that all the town is wide open, and you can go any time you want to, I rarely go to Vegas once a year. [laughter]


Tyler

But it's gotten old, too, you know.


King

Well—


Tyler

Well, I mean, you know, it's not, like, new.


King

Our national bail agents association, which is called the Professional Bail Agents of the U.S., meets there once a year. And I go, I attend that meeting. So that's what throws me into Vegas, but other than that, you know, fine. I wouldn't have missed Vegas. I was over there during that whole period of time when we were trying to improve the situation. Now, of course, I think things are beginning to erode back in that there are not that many blacks that are involved at the poker tables and women at


367
the blackjack table and those kind of things. It seems almost like there's been a roll back.


Tyler

But that's all around the country, the backlash—in the professions, medical schools, everywhere.


King

Well, I remember because of the fact that I've been an officer of the organization. It's generally meant that I've had to go a day early and stay a day late, and we have always stayed at a Strip hotel. And this time, we're going to stay at one of the downtown hotels. I'll probably get a better feel for what's going on in the downtown, but the hotel will stay, that is, comparable by far to the hotels on the Strip. You know, those downtown hotels are just tremendous now. This one's called the Union Plaza. I have not been going into the places, but the downtown tended to change along with the Strip so that there were blacks that were working everyplace. But the last time I was in Vegas, I did not see many blacks that were working.


Tyler

I didn't either; I was there three weeks, four weeks ago now.


King

I just did not see them. If they're there, I don't know. I think it's—


Tyler

Very few.


King

—gone downhill. But the fight was waged, the door was opened. And now what has happened since then, I guess the backlash has come in.



368
Tyler

Well, what about local politics again? You were involved with Poulson, a Republican, right?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Most blacks voted for Poulson?


King

Oh, yeah.


Tyler

Well, let's see, up until Yorty, the mayor was dominated by Republicans, right?


King

Yeah, I guess [Fletcher] Bowron, prior to that he had been in— Bowron, I think, did three terms and—


Tyler

Frank [L.] Shaw was before him.


King

Yeah. Of course Shaw was—


Tyler

Was Shaw Republican?


King

I think Shaw was a Democrat. Poulson was in, I believe, two terms. And Poulson was such an odds-on favorite to win, and as far as the black community was concerned, they had gotten kind of flushed out when, in the prior mayor's race, when most of the blacks went against Poulson when—


Tyler

Why? In his second term? Or his last term?


King

For the second term. Most went against him. But—


Tyler

Why? Was this mid-fifties or—


King

Yeah, yeah. He had a turnaround situation. They went against him in his second race, and then they went for him when he lost. I'm talking about now a lot of the known blacks, those that were well known. They really locked


369
into the Poulson campaign. In the primary, Poulson was just the odds-on favorite. I mean there was no place else to put your bet, except on Poulson.


Tyler

Now, this is, what? Not the 1960?


King

Yeah, the 1961 race.


Tyler

But, wait a minute, I thought most blacks went for Yorty in that year.


King

Okay.


Tyler

You said that the black voter did, but the black leadership was with Poulson.


King

Okay, two things occurred. You had—



370

Tape Number: X, Side One
July 14, 1985

Tyler

Well, back on [Samuel W.] Yorty.


King

I'm absolutely convinced that [Norris] Poulson was very concerned when I decided that I was not going to support him. I don't know why he even seemed to notice it, because it didn't seem like to me it was going to be any big thing to me which way I went. But he was concerned that I was not going to be supporting him.


Tyler

Why did you shift from him to Yorty?


King

Well, the thing is, I wasn't able to get any tangible kind of things other than the social relationship that I had with the mayor.


Tyler

No commissions, do you mean, or what?


King

No—


Tyler

No jobs?


King

No, no commissions in the offering. There were virtually no blacks that were working in his administration, and I was simply concerned with making some things happen, and—


Tyler

Was the fire department crisis, which was big in the late fifties, a big factor?


King

Fire department crisis was a factor. We started hammering away at [John H.] Alderson, who at that time was the chief, on the basis that there should be some


371
integration in the fire department, that there was no need to make some big distinction about who could put a fire out. We looked at it rationally that if your house was on fire, what do you care whether or not the person's black or white who's putting the fire out? So that was a major issue and to some extent—


Tyler

He didn't move on it aggressively?


King

Well, Poulson really was not able to handle that situation. The people in the fire department themselves had decided that they did not want to be living with blacks, and, of course, when you're in the fire department, you live with your crew. It meant overnight sleeping; it meant eating together, cooking, and all those other kind of things that really brought people very close together. So the fire department itself then became a major issue. There were some very intemperate remarks that were made that probably everybody could have done without. But Tom [Thomas G.] Neusom, who is now deceased, was president of the branch during a period of that fight.


Tyler

NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] branch?


King

Yeah, NAACP branch. He led that in a very skillful way. Tom was a very bright lawyer.


Tyler

Talking about Tom [Thomas] Bradley?


King

No, I'm talking about Tom Neusom.



372
Tyler

Oh, Tom Neusom, okay.


King

And we put on picket line after picket line in front of the fire department headquarters, which was downtown L.A., and various other fire facilities.


Tyler

Was this strictly a city operation? Did the county fire department come under attack?


King

No. It was strictly a city operation. The county fire department was no different than the city, except that it was the city operation that we were involved with. As time went on— And Poulson really didn't make much of an effort to handle that situation; I think he kind of probably had the idea that sooner or later it would dry up and go away. Then you had [William H.] Parker, who was chief of police, who had a reputation that was a little bit different than the person himself. Parker was not one who was willing to make many changes as far as integration was concerned. He took the position that some blacks should go up in the department but that basically they should be in charge of black units and that there should be no cars in the city of Los Angeles that were black and white on the inside. It was all right to be black and white on the outside. But black officers riding with white officers was not something that was to come to pass very easily.


Tyler

Well, he said that officers in partnership was a voluntary choice, and he wasn't going to force integration;


373
that officers, if they objected, he wasn't going to force it, and that was his policy. At least, I've read that in his interviews from the Watts riot commission [Governor's Commission on the Los Angeles Riots]. But this is much later he's making that statement.


King

Yeah, we're going pretty well seven or eight years prior to that, when Parker was well in command of everything and clearly was tantamount to being a— J. Edgar Hoover would be the only model that I could apply: J. Edgar Hoover to the national, as he was to the city. He was a good police officer, though. But the question of his sensitivity as far as blacks was concerned, I think, was extremely limited and extremely naive, because I think that the effect of his policies— You'd have to say that all of the things that occurred during his administration, given his strength, probably would have to fall at his feet. He had one woman who was sort of a community liaison—


Tyler

Vivian Strange?


King

Vivian Strange. And as far as I knew, there was no other linkage—


Tyler

Tom [Thomas] Bradley in the fifties was public relations officer. Of course there was a little politics behind that, hoping he would get into conflict with the black community over police-community relations.


King

I don't really remember that part too much, except


374
that Tom was always very skillful and low profile in order to—


Tyler

Please both ends? The black community and the police department.


King

Well, Tom had greater ambitions, and given that, I would not ever see him drawing a line and saying, "Hey, look, don't go past this line." He was in, let's see, at that time, well, a little bit later, he was in night law school, and you have to give credit where credit is due; he worked his way up, both in the department by being intelligent and being able to pass the examinations, and by being able to stay out of trouble with his superiors. And he worked his way on through law school and took the bar and passed the bar.

Vivian, though, is the person that I had the best recollection with as far as being the link to Parker. Vivian was a very, very nice person, a good police officer, and seemingly had pretty good access to the structure. Her husband was a nice guy, too. I think he long ago passed, quite some years ago. And he was a nice guy.

So basically both of them were. He was in the bonding business for a period of time, but it's a pretty tough business, and maybe the fact that his wife had prior linkage with the police department tended to inhibit his ability to function; I'm not too sure, but he was really a


375
nice guy, a square shooter. I never heard a negative word about him.

So there were these problems, allegations of police— Well, most of them, I'd say, were blown up a little bit more than they actually were.


Tyler

Now, Poulson didn't want to tangle with Parker? Did he leave Parker alone? Was that part of the thrust of your—


King

Yeah, Parker—


Tyler

—the black community's grievance?


King

Parker was really the heavy as far as Los Angeles in terms of balancing any scales. Whatever it was that you had, Parker could be the decisive factor for an almost balanced scale to go down on one side and up on the other. So nobody really wanted to tackle him. Plus, the memories of the thirties and the—


Tyler

'Forty-nine to '50 [W. Arthur] Worton crisis?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

The bombing and the police corruption?


King

So everybody really wanted to say, let's kind of support Parker and support the police department, because we know what happened before and we wanted to be a reasonably clean city and we don't want the easterners coming in, taking over, that kind of situation. So Parker in a sense, he had a lot of plus points as a police


376
officer. He maintained the respect of his fellow officers. He supported them, but when they were out of line, he was the first one to move on them. So Parker the police officer was good. Parker the person who understood people certainly had a lot, a lot to be wanted. Very, very seldom did he make any appearances in the black community. He didn't average one appearance a year, as far as the black community was concerned, so I don't think he was making any particular outreach approach, either in terms of improving or creating a positive impact out of the black community. However, as you point out, nobody really wanted to tangle with him.

So we come along to near the end of the year in 1960, and it looks like that there's just no way in the world for Poulson to lose. And because of the fact that the blacks thought that they would be able to negotiate some commissions and other kind of things with him. So this, of course, was prior to the time that there were any blacks in the city council; there were no elected blacks there, and city hall to a large extent was just lily-white. The few people that were on, there was some— Always, traditionally, there's been a police commissioner. Then there was an art commissioner, who was very deserving of that particular thing because he knew an awful lot about architecture and building.



377
Tyler

Was that Paul Waxstein?


King

That was Paul [R.] Williams.


Tyler

Paul Williams.


King

Yeah. And I believe that there was a third person on who was on the [Los Angeles City] Housing [Authority] and he was a fellow who was associated with the Golden State [Mutual Life Insurance Company].


Tyler

What, William Nickerson [Jr.]?


King

No, the number three man over there. Name kind of—


Tyler

Beavers?


King

Beavers, yeah. You hit it right on the head.


Tyler

Is it Leroy Beavers?


King

Well, no—


Tyler

No, George [A.] Beavers.


King

I thought it was George, yeah.

So that was about the extent of that situation, but most of the ministers decided to go along with Poulson, and almost right down the line, on the basis that he was absolutely invincible. The campaign started, and a few of us went over and met with Sam. He had a little law office right off of Wilshire Boulevard, kind of up on the second floor, third floor, and we'd go over there, and we would sit and talk with him.


Tyler

That would be you and who?



378
King

Everette [M.] Porter and Delo O. Gray, who was a dentist, and I think maybe one other person that off the top of my head I just can't recall his name, but I'll think of his name in a minute.


Tyler

Hawkins's brother?


King

No, no. Hawkins's people were all with, right down the line—


Tyler

It wasn't Merv [Mervyn M.] Dymally—


King

No, no, no. None of the traditional politicians. Hawkins was with Poulson.


Tyler

You mean Augustus [F.] Hawkins?


King

Augustus Hawkins and his brother—


Tyler

Frank? Is it Frank Hawkins?


King

Uh, no, not Frank. But anyway, he too was a commissioner. He was on the public works commission [Los Angeles City Board of Public Works Commissioners], which was a full-time job that paid—


Tyler

Who was this now?


King

Gus Hawkins's brother.


Tyler

What was his brother's name? Frank, or—


King

No, it isn't Frank. I may think of it in a moment. [Edward A. Hawkins] So we went over and we talked to him. We told him [Yorty] what our concerns were, that we were concerned with having more black commissioners appointed than there had ever been in the history of the


379
city. And Sam says, "You certainly should have more." We were concerned with having people on his staff in city hall, on the executive staff. He said, "No problem." And he went on to point out that when he was in Congress, one of his chief deputies was black.


Tyler

Do you recall who that deputy was?


King

Yeah, it's a woman who lived in Pacoima. Ethel is her first name. [Ethel C. Bryant] She had been with him all during his congressional period. And we talked with Ethel, and Ethel says, "The man is A-OK. He's worth taking the risk on." And we started waging the battle. There were probably a half a dozen people who ran in that primary and Yorty did not even figure to make the runoff. There was only this very, very small group of us that never got over a dozen blacks that were really supporting him. And all the name blacks in town—even though four years before, they had not been openly and notoriously supporting Poulson—this time were down there supporting Poulson, because of the fact that they thought Poulson was a shoo-in and they simply wanted to be with the winner.


Tyler

Thinking that they might get some rewards, officers? But Poulson hadn't made any promises?


King

We had talked about having a city human relations commission, and Poulson, I think, had agreed that it would be A-OK to put a city human relations commission. But even


380
that was under suspect, because the question is whether or not he wanted one together to dilute the impact of the county—


Tyler

With John Buggs.


King

—whereas those of us that were asking for it were asking for it so we could implement [laughter] what the county was embarking on and was doing.


Tyler

Because the county had John Buggs, who, through Kenneth Hahn, was saying, "Here is some county power; use it to promote your interests." Open-housing, the school situation—you know, the Crenshaw Neighbors [Inc.]—the schools, the housing. But the city was not doing that; it was clear in the fire department. Like, say, Buggs could have moved on the county fire department—the county sheriff, right?—if the black community went to him and said, "Hey, this is our concern. You are the man to investigate and bring out the facts and put pressure."


King

So you do have this odd situation of the majority of the blacks out there that were visible. At the beginning of that race, they were out there supporting Poulson. Now, what occurred was that on election night in the primary, we were standing there watching the television, and we were on the second floor down on Wilshire Boulevard—place didn't even have an elevator; we were over a Thrifty Drug [and Discount] Store, I believe. It was a big, huge room, and


381
there were so few people in that room on election night, until you could just walk from one side of it to the other side and you wouldn't touch a person. [laughter] This was election night. And there was a guy who was an assemblyman, who was— No one was supposed to beat Poulson. Poulson was supposed to take it in the primary. I mean, that was the political wisdom that was out here in this town. But we took Sam Yorty, and we went from place to place to place with him. When I used to come home, I'd get in from the bonding office, because I used to eat dinner at home at that time. Sam, in general, at least two, three days a week would be sitting in the dining room waiting for me to get home, and Anita [Givens King] would be fixing dinner for him and hollering about when is Celes going to get here. And he knew all the kids and everything else, and hey, we'd start out and we'd leave here two, three nights a week. And we would go out, we would go to every place that there was an activity going; we had it preprogrammed to some extent. We'd go to, when it got later at night, we'd go from bar to bar to bar to bar; every social activity, we were there. And in other communities, he was doing exactly the same thing. This man worked. He politicked harder than anybody I have ever seen politick. And we began to forge into a team. There were some Italians that were doing the same thing in the Italian
382
community. They were taking a piece of the day. There were a few Jewish people that were doing the same thing. And all the way around. We had some Hispanics that were doing exactly the same thing. So Sam was going fifteen hours a day, sometimes, eighteen hours a day. Kept his composure, talked about the issues that were involved in the community and other things, none of which really rang much of a bell. But the fact is that we got around every place.

Primary comes up and we're standing up there watching the tube, and one guy, who was a Harvard [University] graduate, and he was a [councilperson]—it's been a long time, I can't remember his name now [Patrick D. McGee]—he was standing on up at his headquarters in the [San Fernando] Valley, thanking the people for having voted for him, because it appeared as though that Poulson had not gotten the majority of the votes (fifty percent plus one) and it looked like he was going to be second. And here we were behind him and creeping up on him, and at the very end, we came in second. Now, we had had people put up offices, little storefront offices all over. We didn't have any money; we had shot our whole wad all the way, and then a most unusual situation occurred. We found an issue. We didn't have an issue.


Tyler

You mean the trash?



383
King

The trash issue.


Tyler

How did you stumble on it, come up on it, or what?


King

Somebody walked into headquarters; it was a woman—and I'm trying to remember who, I—and she laid down this report. And she was part of the campaign; she was ultimately appointed a commissioner [laughter] and stayed with the whole thing. She says, "I don't want to separate the cans, and I don't think most housewives do."

Sam looked at the book. We're all sitting around there. The book was thick as a Webster, large Webster's dictionary, and he goes and he locks up and he reads this report. We then had an issue.

Poulson was not talking to anyone, not responding to anything, not responding to any charges or whatever, and Poulson had lost his voice and was unable to speak effectively. He had laryngitis, and it just came from nowhere. And here we had an issue for every housewife, and an issue, really, I guess, for a lot of men, because they had to sort that stuff out, too; they had to put the cans out. And this report— Sam just went to the tube every time he could get, and he talked about this report and that there was no need and it wasn't cost-efficient. And at that time, you put your cans out, I think, every three weeks, and you put your trash out every week. And that went on, and that became a major issue.



384
Tyler

Because it was too much trouble to separate. That hit everybody.


King

And it was—


Tyler

Remember, because women in '60, that's just around the time when they stopped burning the trash, was it?


King

Yeah, yeah, they'd stopped burning the trash.


Tyler

I remember those incinerators; you had to burn the trash.


King

Yeah, I used to enjoy the incinerator. That was just fine. But the women took that up, and I think for a lot of men, too, that that was an issue. And Poulson had taken a policy position that that was the way to go.

Now, in the meantime, we had had Sam over and over and over in the black community continuously committing himself to what he was going to do and talking about his record. And his record was good. Now, he was anti the Kennedys a hundred and ten percent. But the Kennedys really never came up as an issue, because the strange thing was most of the blacks, the name blacks that had been supporting [John F.] Kennedy, turned around and started supporting Poulson.


Tyler

You mean, turned around and started supporting Yorty, or Poulson?


King

Poulson. It was the people out here who voted for Yorty, not the leadership. The black community people. Which showed that again that the black leadership was not


385
in tune with the people.


Tyler

But Yorty opposed Kennedy, and the same people voted for Kennedy in '60.


King

Absolutely, but Yorty didn't have any juice when he opposed him. Nobody knew who Yorty was. Yorty was no longer in Congress, so—


Tyler

Now, what about Yorty and Parker?


King

Okay, the word—


Tyler

The charge that Yorty claimed he would get Parker under control or fire him—any truth to that? I've heard that the local papers, or Yorty made speech after speech, but the papers didn't publish it.


King

Yorty made the affirmative decision, and we were all a part of that decision process, that there was absolutely no way for us to fight Poulson and Parker. To do so would mean that you would lose absolutely too much in terms of the marginal support. Because Parker had a large constituency. Now, in the [San Fernando] Valley, Yorty was to go to the Valley as he did, and he was to say out there, "You've been forgotten by city hall. You're forty miles away from there, and nothing is done out here for you, and yet you represent the largest growth potential, as far as the Valley is concerned." And there were people in the Valley that were supporting him and carrying him around just as there were those few of us who were here. In the


386
Hispanic community, it was that Hispanics were not getting their fair share of city appointments. In the black community, he actually had a record to run on of what he had done in connection with blacks. He had appointed a guy to West Point, who still lives here now and who is very well known. A lot of good publicity had come out of that; it was still unusual to have blacks going to West Point, because you got to remember the first black general—


Tyler

Ben [Benjamin O.] Davis, Sr.?


King

—had just been appointed in World War II, and that was Ben Davis, Sr. There had only been just comparatively a few blacks that had gone to West Point up to that time, certainly less than fifty. In fact, by 1950, it probably was even closer to ten. You had [to] be back in pre-1900, then Ben [Benjamin O. Davis] Jr., and then a few after that, so there were very few. In fact, it's still significant today to get a black appointed to one of the academies. And now they have multiple academies. They have more academies now than they did then. They didn't have an air force academy, for instance, back in those times, and I'm not too sure they had a coast guard [academy]; they had a naval and army.

So he [Yorty] had a record to run on, and it just so happened that he and I were in a bar one night, and the bar is now called Memory Lane, and it was called Memory Lane


387
then. And we were there, and I was walking him through and introducing him to just everybody in there, and we had one LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department] guy who was driving us—he was driving us on his own, after work—and we're walking out of that bar, and police officers had two guys kind of spread-eagled on the wall, and we stopped there. And the crowd kind of gathered.


Tyler

This is with Yorty?


King

Yeah, yeah. He was there. And Sam made some brief comments, saying that these kind of rousts should not occur in the city of Los Angeles. And we stayed there for a little bit, and then the LAPD officer said, "Look, we better go, because we may have a problem." And we stepped on out of there and jumped in Sam's car; he had a Chrysler, and we jumped in the car, and we split. But he had made these comments outside the bar, that this kind of situation should not go on, and it picked up from that bar, hit the gossip columns, hit the local newspapers, and the black community, and one thing led to another that he was going to somehow fire Parker.


Tyler

Well, actually, now, and I've read some of the literature on this, Yorty charged that Poulson had the city machine moving against him (which included the police commission [Los Angeles City Board of Police Commissioner]) and several of the police commissioners


388
were campaigning—I don't recall the detail now, but I can look it up in my own research—that several of the guys were campaigning for Poulson, and Yorty pointed out that he would fire them from the police commission. The police were harassing Yorty and his campaign workers, and some policemen were campaigning for Poulson. And that was the only direct evidence that I found of Yorty in conflict with the police, through the police commission as part of the city machine of Poulson, campaigning in behalf of Poulson. And the impression, I guess, maybe, from that, which was publicized—well, I know it was publicized—


King

Yeah, it was publicized—


Tyler

—because I got it from the newspapers, that maybe all of that gave the impression in the black community [laughter] that he was going to get Parker under control and the police under control. I've heard people say this over and over, but I have not seen it in any of the literature. I've seen in the literature the conflict with the police commission and several members he said he was going to fire if he was ever elected.


King

He said he was going to fire all of them but one.


Tyler

Yeah, yeah. So I don't know if that's—


King

And that was a woman; I've forgotten her name.


Tyler

Albro? No, no, Albro was on there when Parker was elected in '50, and she was the pivotal person dying


389
from cancer, or something or other. But this other incident that you were talking about, this rousting business you said went around?


King

Oh, yeah. It generated all over the community.


Tyler

My impression had been that this is why the majority of blacks went for Yorty—because of this Parker business, despite his prior record of denouncing Kennedy. Unless, as you point out, that the Kennedy record wasn't— Yorty didn't have a big profile then, so it was of no consequence.


King

That's right.


Tyler

Because I know it came out in '60 and this may have been just before he [was] elected, but Poulson then wasn't sharp enough to pick up on it to use it against him.


King

Yeah, they didn't use it. They didn't use it. You got to remember, too, now, Poulson was a Republican and he hadn't said anything favorable about Kennedy either.


Tyler

That may have been [it] too. Do you think that had an impact on blacks moving toward a Democratic candidate?


King

No, because basically the leadership was going with Poulson.


Tyler

Yeah, but then Kennedy was talking some civil rights stuff, and blacks got carried away with Kennedy on civil rights.


King

They didn't get carried away with Yorty on that


390
basis. Yorty was a maverick Democrat who did not participate very much in Democratic politics that went on through the years. Even when Kennedy would come to town when he was president, and those kind of things, Yorty was never even invited and didn't particularly want to go to meet him at the airport and all those kind of things that they do, and go to Palm Springs with him and all that; wasn't interested in that. He was no supporter of theirs, and it stayed that way.


Tyler

How do you account for that? Did he ever tell you, or was it ever—


King

Oh, I don't know. He may have been the victim of some of the sort of insider Democrats. That was sort of an insider group, and he was a maverick.


Tyler

But now, back in '57, '56, he went [to] Fresno and charged the California Democratic Council with fellow-traveling and communist infiltration, which he even charged Culbert [L.] Olson with, he and Jack B. Tenney.


King

I recall Jack Tenney very well.


Tyler

Jack B. Tenney, in some oral interviews with this same UCLA oral history project, charged that Yorty had always been a Republican, but he was Democratic because he was in a Democratic district and that the only way he could get elected was on a Democratic label. Do you know any truth to that? Has Yorty ever told you anything like


391
that? [laughter]


King

I would agree. I would agree.


Tyler

That Republican politics was really his brand but he used a Democratic label?


King

He is a registered Republican now. So, I mean, there is, if you look at it full circle. [laughter] He's a registered Republican.


Tyler

Did he ever tell you that then, during that time period?


King

Well, I was a Republican at that time supporting him as a Democrat, and he was perfectly comfortable with that. And he was also perfectly comfortable with my stand on rights, on the civil rights issues. No problem at all. Now, there were so few blacks that were supporting, name blacks that were supporting Yorty, until when he was elected—election night, I'm not talking about the primary, now; I'm talking about May 31 or June 1 or 2 or something like that—the majority of the blacks, the name blacks, were over at the Ambassador Hotel on election night, over there with Poulson.


Tyler

This is the primary or the final—


King

The runoff.


Tyler

So wait a minute. When Yorty came up second in the primary, that didn't generate a group of blacks abandoning Poulson?



392
King

No.


Tyler

The line stayed the same, it didn't change anything?


King

It didn't change them.


Tyler

Now, so when Yorty is elected, what happens in the aftermath? How did the black leadership and the masses deal with that? How does Yorty build a political base then, or black leadership class? Or what happens?


King

Well—


Tyler

What would be the long-range consequences of this—


King

The long-range consequence was that it established a new political, somewhat of a political base for some brand-new faces, as far as city hall was concerned and as far as some practical politics were concerned. A new little hierarchy was created, and it was pretty close to invincible, except that a few concessions had to be made.


Tyler

In what regard?


King

Well, okay, first of all, we had gotten these commitments out of Sam, that he was going to appoint blacks. But Sam was not about to appoint blacks who were not loyal to him. He was not about to run out and try. He made it pretty clear; he was not about to run out—


Tyler

He was a partisan politician.


King

[laughter] Yeah, and go and proselyte the people who had tried to kill him and bring them in, even though


393
they were the name end of the community. A lot of them even showed up there late that night over at the headquarters; they came running in, and this place I was telling you about up on the second floor, hey, they were pitter-patting all up the steps. And we were there; we were there to welcome them.


Tyler

I mean, what was there? Why were they coming over there?


King

Because the fact that they just thought they had that much control over the black community and, regardless who went in, that they were going to have their impact on him.


Tyler

So they were coming to negotiate with Yorty since he had won?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

I mean, at least they felt they could negotiate.


King

Yeah, right. Right.


Tyler

That they had something to negotiate with.


King

Yeah. They didn't have anything to negotiate with, because the black community—


Tyler

Had what? Had voted contrary to them.


King

—had gone with Yorty. And the black leadership had gone with Poulson.


Tyler

Now, this is something I didn't know. And this is the genesis of the black leadership conflict with Yorty and


394
the bad reputation they tried to give him.


King

Well, that's exactly what occurred. And Yorty—


Tyler

Because they had the black— The established black leadership was never in harmony with Yorty.


King

Never.


Tyler

It wasn't that Yorty stabbed them in the back and then they were never— Now I see the genesis of all of this stuff.


King

They never were supportive, no.


Tyler

All of this leadership criticism of Yorty. It wasn't— [laughter]


King

It wasn't valid.


Tyler

[laughter] They had been on the losing end from the start.


King

That's it. That is it.


Tyler

So since Yorty was a partisan politician—



395

Tape Number: X, Side Two
July 14, 1985

Tyler

Okay, well, go ahead. So, I mean, what happened when these— Who were the leaders that come running up the steps there at Yorty headquarters late?


King

One of the past presidents of the NAACP—


Tyler

That was who?


King

That was Dawkins.


Tyler

Maurice Dawkins?


King

Yeah, uh—


Tyler

This is 1960? 'Sixty-one.


King

'Sixty-one. Well, you—


Tyler

Was [Leon H.] Washington on the [Los Angeles] Sentinel? They were with Poulson?


King

Wash at the Sentinel, I cannot remember, but I don't recall any real support out of Wash.


Tyler

What about Hawkins? He was a Democrat.


King

Hawkins was down the line with Poulson, one hundred and ten percent.


Tyler

Despite [the fact] he was a Democrat and Poulson was a Republican.


King

Absolutely. They figured that Poulson was going to be a total winner. Plus Hawkins's brother had been given a plum job as part of the deal that had worked—


Tyler

By Poulson.



396
King

By Poulson.

A very good job, and it's still a good job as far as city hall's concerned now. And that's on the [Los Angees City] Public [Works] Commission, full-time job. So none of that whole hierarchy was ever with Yorty. Now, what did he do, okay? He went in and he appointed the people basically who were loyal to him from the word number one, go. He appointed Everette Porter—


Tyler

Wait a minute, hang on.


King

Why don't you back it up a little bit and test it? [pause]


Tyler

Okay, go ahead.


King

He appointed E. [Edward] V. Hill—


Tyler

To what positions? Everette Porter to what?


King

Police commission.


Tyler

Okay.


King

There had always been a traditional black spot on the police—


Tyler

Right, since the thirties, yeah—


King

Yeah. E. V. Hill—


Tyler

He was a hard campaigner for Yorty?


King

E. V. Hill was right with us—


Tyler

From the start?


King

Yeah. Good Republican. [laughter] Black Republican.



397
Tyler

From Houston, Texas.


King

[laughter] There you are.


Tyler

He dabbled in politics there, ran for office, but anyway—


King

He appointed, I think, seven right away. No such thing had ever been heard of, seven black commissioners.


Tyler

Were you appointed to anything?


King

I went in and talked with Sam. He called me in and he says, "You've been loyal to me." This was after the campaign and there were no real deals cut before. It was just that, hey, this is your team; if we go in, we all go in together.


Tyler

So that was just sort of understood.


King

It was a clear understanding.


Tyler

And that was a breakthrough in itself, that you didn't have to even go through— Well, you said you went up to his office and discussed that blacks should have some power, and he said okay, so—


King

Yeah, we got commitments that he would appoint a significant number of people in his administration, and we had a general understanding that it was going to be more than had ever been appointed by every mayor in the history of the town, all of them put together. I went into Sam's office, and—


Tyler

Was this before he made, after he made these other


398
appointments?


King

After he was sworn in.


Tyler

After he made these other black appointments?


King

No, no. He was into— This was right after he was sworn in. The appointments were made afterwards, and we had a conversation and I said, "Sam, it would be my preference that my mother be on a commission at this point rather than I." He says, "Well," he said, "if that is your choice, fine." So we set up an appointment, and my mother had been very active in many things in Los Angeles, a very intelligent lady, and I carried her down a few days later and—


Tyler

What's her name?


King

Leontyne [Butler] King.


Tyler

Right.


King

We had always been in business, and she had been in the social columns and had been the sponsor of black girls' and young women's clubs and half a dozen years in a row was Best Dressed Woman in Los Angeles. As I had mentioned, she was a buyer for a dress shop, so she knew how to dress, and she also knew how to buy. So she could buy the ultra-expensive things and knew how to go to the wholesale shops and the wholesale area and buy those things, because when she was a much younger woman, that was her job. Sam had never met my mother, so we went down, we went in, and there


399
were thirteen commissions that had openings on them, and they were all sitting on a table. I introduced my mother, and I had sent some information down, her resume and a few other clippings about all the marvelous things that she had done, and Sam very graciously came over and he says, "Your son tells me that he would prefer that you be on a commission." And then we kidded around and he says that it looks like he's going to get the best of the bargain because— [laughter] And he says, "There are the commissions that have openings on them. Go take a look at them." And he went on about his business. My mother walked over there and she went through every one of those various commissions, and she decided on the library commission [Los Angeles City Board of Library Commissioners]. Sam came back in the office— We were in his private office, which is still the mayor's office. There've been no changes down there. We walked over to him, and my mother said to him, "Well, I'd like to be on the library commission." And he said, "Thank you very much, Mrs. King." And right after that her name was submitted. He'd never seen her before in her life, but he knew—


Tyler

But it wasn't any problem she couldn't handle anyway on the commission if she knew of different, you know—



400
King

Right. So what happened was she went on that library commission, and she stayed on there for twelve years.


Tyler

Really?


King

And she turned this town around. There were virtually no black books in any library.


Tyler

This is 1960.


King

Right.


Tyler

Miriam Matthews hadn't—


King

Matthews was down at the Vernon Branch, and the Vernon Branch was getting ready to be sold. The ground was going to be sold. [laughter] The branch that was over near Hooper [Avenue] had been knocked down, demolished, and the ground was up and being sold because the growth was in the Valley. And she [Leontyne Butler King] talked back and forth with Sam at that point so that there wouldn't be any misunderstanding that she was going to take a very militant and strong approach.


Tyler

To keep library service and buildings in the black community?


King

And black books. Because black books was a real issue at that time. See, there weren't— None of the white libraries would take a black book in.


Tyler

Oh, really?


King

Yeah. None. And it was clearly understood that she


401
was going to be taking a militant, strong position. She went in and she—


Tyler

So it was like the whole concession was that the Vernon Branch would be the black collection for the city; would it be in one [area], the black area?


King

Well, her position was that they should be in every library, and it took years to do it. But the fact that she was there for twelve years—


Tyler

She could follow through.


King

Follow through. And it was only a—


Tyler

In fact, she could stay there when Yorty served two terms.


King

Yeah, yeah, right. Well, he served three terms.


Tyler

Oh, that's right; he served from '61 to '73. That's right. That's right. Three terms.


King

And she was reappointed each time and stayed there for the entire twelve-year period that he was in. She did a tremendous job. Tremendous job. Not only for the black community, but also for the white community.


Tyler

In terms of getting those books out there. Now, when Bradley came in, did she resign or Bradley dropped her?


King

Oh, she resigned when Bradley came in.


Tyler

Was that because she was just through, or she didn't want to work with Bradley, or what?



402
King

No, well, politically, we're a political family, and when you lose, you should go. When Bradley went in some twelve years later— By that time, Sam had appointed me to a commission. In fact, I'm almost absolutely certain this is correct, that never in the history of the city of Los Angeles has there ever been a mother and a son on commissions at the same time.


Tyler

What commission were you on? When did you—


King

I was president of the [Los Angeles] City Human Relations Commission.


Tyler

Oh, that's right!


King

And I was there for five years. But, by example, when Tom won, I was in Tom's office at nine o'clock the following morning after he won, having won the night before, and I handed him my resignation.


Tyler

Well, that's a part of the tradition, isn't it?


King

Well.


Tyler

Either get fired [laughter] or—


King

Well, there were some holdovers. Tom asked me, he said, "Well, do you want to talk about it?" I said no. [laughter] Hey, when you win, you win. When you lose, you lose. I mean, I believe in the system. So—


Tyler

Because you don't want him asking you for any political favors—


King

I don't know that I was [laughter] in much of a


403
position to be looking at it from that standpoint. [laughter] He's the one that was mayor, okay, and I was the one stepping out of city hall.


Tyler

Well, I mean that your political skills and connections were of some consequence.


King

Well, I think that that tended to enhance my credibility at all levels.


Tyler

[laughter] Unless you felt terribly guilty because you had been battling for your winner and he lost; you had—


King

I didn't have any guilt.


Tyler

[laughter] Your hands weren't clean.


King

My hands were perfectly clean, and they stayed clean.


Tyler

[laughter] But politically, your hands were in the Yorty camp, you know what I'm saying?


King

I was the first person to resign. First person to resign. Now, of course, when you resign, you still stay on until they are able to get a replacement. In other words, you don't pull a game. Now, I did it with integrity. Hey, I resign; go ahead and replace me. Soon as the replacement is there, great. I will serve, you know—


Tyler

Yeah, to make the orderly transition.


King

Right, and that is exactly what I did. And I think that that's what you ought to do politically, but when you win, you should, without question, okay, win the


404
benefits. That's where I am on that situation.


Tyler

The patronage.


King

I believe in it. I believe in it. [laughter] I do not believe you go out and reward your enemies. Now, that doesn't mean—


Tyler

A lot of people don't understand that, though. You know, that politics is partisan politics in America.


King

And I like the game. And again, as I say, that following morning, I was there at nine o'clock. And would you believe Tom Bradley was in his office? And he had just won the night before. I went to his city council office, knocked on the door—


Tyler

—and he was there.


King

He was there. Handed him my resignation. I think some of the people that were in the office at that time thought I was coming down to see if I could cut some kind of a deal.


Tyler

[laughter] You surprised them all, huh?


King

Well, I didn't realize that anybody would be thinking that too much, but they buzzed and buzzed all around the place that I was there.


Tyler

But now, okay. Shifting back here, what happened when these cats came pitter-pattering upstairs to talk with Yorty later that night when he won? I mean, what happened from there?



405
King

Absolutely nothing but the height of cordiality. They did not get in during the entire twelve-year period.


Tyler

Again—


King

Except as to two concessions that we had to make.


Tyler

Which were?


King

Number one, we had to do something with Hawkins, because Hawkins had a power base. No question about it, he had a power base all the way across the line—this is prior to Hawkins, now, going—


Tyler

Did you mean power base in terms of the black voters or the power base was in what dimensions? The scale? What do you—


King

He had a broad power base. He had been in the assembly for many years and had good linkage everyplace and very, very few negatives, all right? And it was also pretty clear that all of us were still going to back Gus going to Congress. Gus was running the next year, which was '62, and—


Tyler

So you made clear lines of distinction there that, okay, we clashed in this deal, but other areas we don't have to clash in, or whatever.


King

Yeah. And we had to have a situation where we didn't have Gus knocking the administration, because Gus was a pivotal situation in that there were a lot of folks who weren't that supportive of Gus only on the basis that


406
they couldn't use him. But if Gus were to decide to go with a major foe group, he could have been a real problem. So the concession that was made was to put his brother back on—even though he'd been with Poulson—was to put him back on his job, public works. It took a lot of time and a lot of negotiating. And the other thing was that Claude Hudson, old man Hudson had been—


Tyler

H. Claude Hudson.


King

Yeah, had been raising a fog in connection with police brutality and nothing being done in connection with all these abuses and other kind of things. So we had to figure out a way to shut him down.


Tyler

Elbert T. Hudson.


King

So our guy who was on the police commission—


Tyler

[Herbert A.] Greenwood?


King

No, Greenwood came up later. Our guy who was on the police commission—


Tyler

Was it the black lady under Yorty?


King

Wait a minute, Greenwood was on prior to that.


Tyler

With Poulson.


King

With Poulson, yeah. Right. With Poulson; that's when Greenwood was on. And by the way, they'd almost all come out of the same law office: Porter, Greenwood had both worked, I believe, for Walter—


Tyler

Gordon?



407
King

—Walter [L.] Gordon [Jr.]. And then when they moved, they moved over to the same building where Gus was on Forty-second [Street].


Tyler

Yeah, but Walt Gordon had been a partner with Loren Miller.


King

If so, I don't ever remember that.


Tyler

Yeah, earlier.


King

I don't ever remember that.


Tyler

Michael Zinzun is in their office now. Or they share offices with Walter [L.] Gordon III, or one of them in the Gordon family.


King

Okay, maybe that's the third—


Tyler

Oh, you're talking about Senior Gordon.


King

Well, Junior.


Tyler

Yeah, Walter, yeah, okay.


King

Yeah, Junior, who's about seventy-five now.


Tyler

Yeah. You're trying to figure out who your commissioner was, police commissioner?


King

Well, no, no, no. Porter came off and El went on.


Tyler

That's El Hudson.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Elbert T. Hudson.


King

Right. Elbert's a close friend and has been; we were in the air force together; he was a pilot down at Tuskegee [Institute].



408
Tyler

Oh, really? Great—


King

—and just a great all-around guy. My wife and his wife are cousins, but that didn't ever have much to do with anything else; it just is that they were cousins. And when he went on, that shut down H. Claude Hudson, shut him flat down. So by two deals, if you—I withdraw the word "deals"—but by two moves, we were able to nullify—


Tyler

—two major power blocks.


King

That's right. That were involved. If they had joined the other power blocks—


Tyler

You'd have been in real trouble.


King

Right. So this neutralized those two power blocks. And things went on very smoothly; so smoothly, in fact, until Dymally and his whole crowd and Hawkins and everybody else four years later, they said, we'll handle the campaign, in effect.


Tyler

Of Yorty?


King

And they all came in on Yorty's side because of the fact they wanted to be with the winner.


Tyler

So they came in at the second campaign.


King

All of them.


Tyler

But you and who else were the key blacks at the first campaign—the '61?


King

A guy by the name of Richard Jones—


Tyler

Oh, he later served on the [Los Angeles Unified


409
School District] Board of Education commission.


King

No, not that Jones.


Tyler

Oh, that's Reverend Jones.


King

That was Reverend James [E.] Jones.


Tyler

Right. Right.


King

Richard Jones went into the mayor's office, full-time job—


Tyler

Right, right.


King

—as executive assistant.


Tyler

Right.


King

Another guy, Willard Murray—


Tyler

Oh, yeah, I know, I know who Murray is.


King

He went in as an executive assistant.


Tyler

He was an original Yorty cat then.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

I know him.


King

He wasn't as heavy into it as we were.


Tyler

He quit his job later as an engineer to go fuller time in politics.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

He is one of the committeemen, does the editorials—


King

And what he puts out—


Tyler

—of the Democratic paper.


King

Yeah, the Community, uh—



410
Tyler

—Democrat.


King

Democrat, yeah. And he works on staff for Dymally full time.


Tyler

Along with Johnny Otis and his wife at the Hawthorne office. [laughter] But anyway—


King

Let's see, who else was a part of that group? A woman by the name of Moore— What is her first name? Can't think of her first name. She's a Ph.D and also she's heavy in churches. [Marguerite P. Moore] We had one other preacher, and it's hard to remember his name. [Frederick Douglass Ferrell]


Tyler

Hardwick?


King

No, no. Hardwick got involved with us and worked with us—


Tyler

Is this Archie, or the other Hardwick?


King

This is [Joseph] Hardwick that's out on the south end. He worked with us hand and glove, all the way through, but was not a part of the original, the original—


Tyler

First campaigners.


King

Yeah. Group of ten. There weren't over ten. Let's see, who else can I think of? Who was part of that first group? I guess it's kind of hard to pull any more off the top of my head.


Tyler

What were the motives of this second team of blacks that came in the second campaign?



411
King

They wanted to get a piece of the action, and they knew Yorty couldn't be beat.


Tyler

He was going to go for another term because there was no other person in the office that can compete with him, right?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

But, uh—


King

They received a sum total of nothing.


Tyler

What do you mean? Because—


King

They got involved in the campaign all the way across the board, but Sam kept his same team.


Tyler

So wait a minute. By that time wasn't it '62 that, let's see, Dymally first went into office, '62, didn't he?


King

Right.


Tyler

To the Twenty-ninth [Assembly] District, was it?


King

I've forgotten the district, but he replaced Gus [Hawkins].


Tyler

Yeah. So that he was just expanding his power base.


King

Yeah, well, one thing about it, it was clear that there was no one that could beat Yorty at that time. So they all joined on in.


Tyler

But now, this other team, were they predominantly— Dymally—did he start out as a maverick, an independent, or he had ensconced himself with— What's his name? Jesse


412
Unruh. Was he promoted by Jesse Unruh?


King

Talking about Dymally?


Tyler

Yeah.


King

Jesse Unruh was sort of the backbone of all of them, to some extent, because he brought money into the campaigns.


Tyler

That started in '60 with Kennedy.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

They started with Kennedy, the Kennedy campaign, and then jumped into local office. Jesse Unruh rounded them up to work the black community with Kennedy. Yeah, that's the way that happened, yeah.


King

Did a good job, too. And they moved on from there. And Sam was not a part of any of that.


Tyler

In fact, he was rebelling against that inside crowd like Unruh. I mean, he was a maverick in regards to Unruh and the CDC [California Democratic Council], which they depended on.


King

Right. The—


Tyler

But now, as I recall, Dymally told me that he and Murray were some early politicians— Well, they started with Kennedy in '60, the Kennedy campaign in L.A. But Murray was hooked up with Yorty; Dymally was on the other side—


King

Not during the Kennedy situation; we hadn't even


413
discussed with Sam running; the whole thing started out when we were looking for a candidate. Everette Porter was in the courthouse riding on the escalator, and he looked off and he saw Sam. He jumped off the escalator, and he says, "Sam, you want to run for mayor?" And we met that night.


Tyler

Oh, that's how? [laughter] He was looking for a candidate?


King

That's right. We found Sam.


Tyler

Oh, really? Is that the way it went?


King

That's right. Sam didn't find us.


Tyler

I get the wrong impression from the story.


King

Now, he always—


Tyler

I think I've heard this story before.


King

—wanted to run. He always wanted to run.


Tyler

He was just a private lawyer.


King

That's right. Lawyer on the second, third floor off of Wilshire [Boulevard]. Yeah, we found Sam Yorty. Sam Yorty did not find us.


Tyler

Then bring you in on it. You brought him in on it. [laughter] Either you or somebody else has to have—I've heard this before—


King

Well, we admit you know, trying to find—


Tyler

I think Willard Murray may have told me this, I'm not certain.



414
King

Willard wasn't in the vicinity action at all at that point.


Tyler

He wasn't an insider?


King

He wasn't an insider. He became an insider, sort of later on in the situation. But our little hardcore group found Sam Yorty. That's why Sam Yorty never gave up that group. Sam Yorty was not running for mayor, except he always had the attitude he wanted to run. You know, he had filed for mayor as far back as 1936. He always had political ambitions. You know, he was always a horse—


Tyler

But he never had that base, eh?


King

—always a horse looking for a track. Yeah, we met with him, and hey, that's where it moved from. Absolutely a fortuitous situation. Everette, downtown, just happened to see him. He said, "God damn, there's a possibility."


Tyler

[laughter] There's ours, ready to go to race; you know he's ready to run. Now, Yorty in his first term, did he establish good credentials with the black community? Were there conflicts that broke out that were to be notable conflicts or divisions that remained or did not heal over, or what?


King

Well—


Tyler

Would you say that Yorty upheld his mandate, and the black community's expectations were met, or what?


King

Well, seeing all these commissioners being


415
appointed— I mean, it was a big thing to be a commissioner at that time, really a big thing. A person who became a commissioner became citywide attention.


Tyler

These were unpaid positions.


King

Oh, no. They're not paid. People will work harder for nonpaid positions, if they will assist them in their total agenda, than they will for a paid position. And you see it all the time; in fact, right now, you see that people are fighting hard for those kind of things. In fact, it's almost easier to get a person a paid job than it is to get a commission.


Tyler

Oh, because there's only so few, yeah.


King

Right?


Tyler

Yeah.


King

So it has many kind of impacts and, at that time, this was all brand-new, in terms of the number of commissioners. Today we don't have many more commissioners than there were—


Tyler

Despite Bradley's—


King

Yeah, yeah.


Tyler

—incumbency.


King

Right, right. Not many more today than there were then. And it was well represented. Not that it is not well represented now. But go back to the early sixties, I mean, Sam Yorty kept his commitments. And Sam Yorty would,


416
if he felt strongly about a situation, he stayed with his people.


Tyler

Well, now, what about the continued conflicts with the police? You had the Muslim shoot-out April 27, '62; the Birmingham threats in L.A. You have Birmingham demonstrations, Maurice Dawkins, '63. You had the '64 Griffith Park race riot and Parker's reaction; some demonstrations [were] occurring. What is it that started creating the strains with the black community that became a problem? Since you were just talking about these commissioners [and] since these commissioners were not as well known as some of the more public black leaders of older established reputations, did that play a role in people not perceiving what Yorty had done?


King

No. Because they moved as any other commissioner would have and became prominent and became known. The seat itself had that kind of impact. For instance, Marguerite [P.] Justice was put on the commission; she was put on the CRA commission. People don't even remember that she was on the CRA commission.


Tyler

That's the Commission of Human Relations?


King

No, [Los Angeles] City [Community] Redevelopment Agency.


Tyler

Oh, okay.


King

And in there she moved in at a later date and went


417
on the police commission. People remember her as a police commissioner. Mama Justice they used to call her, because Justice is her last name, you know, and she kind of liked them, liked it, anyway. [laughter] But those people became outstanding in their own right. And they participated in swearing in the front room clubs in the community, in being featured speakers for other kind of things. So they moved along quite well. So it was a good situation. Brad Pye, Jr., was ultimately put on the parks and recreation [Los Angeles City Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners], which tended to deal with the major publication in town.


Tyler

The L.A. Sentinel.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Plus, he was a sportswriter for the Sentinel.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Logical choice.


King

And he had a lot to say about what was happening with the Sentinel over there. Sam got along quite well with most folk. What caused the downfall of Sam, I think to some extent, if there was a major situation, it was that he wanted to— [It] was at that situation where he ran for president.


Tyler

What year?


King

Well, let's see.



418
Tyler

'Sixty-four? 'Sixty-eight?


King

Maybe it was '68. I think it probably was '68. I can't really recall, get it clear in my mind, but I think so. He ran, went back, ran in the New Jersey, in the New Hampshire primary, and that kind of situation. And, of course, he ran for governor—


Tyler

What year?


King

—and started late. Can't put my finger on it. Might have been '66.


Tyler

So what—


King

And he had to run in the Democratic primary. He was a maverick as far as the Democrats were concerned.


Tyler

So, what, you think that those things hurt him?


King

Yeah, yeah.


Tyler

Why? Locally? Why?


King

Well, it looked like he was losing his interest in being mayor. That's to some extent one of the problems.


Tyler

Well, okay. Now, what's Yorty's role? How do you see him in the events or crisis that led up to the Watts riot? How do you see him in that whole event?


King

I don't think that he really expected that situation. Now, when you roll the clock back and you go to the Muslim situation that occurred at Fifty-eighth [Street] and Broadway— Let's see, what was the date on that?


Tyler

April 27, 1962.



419
King

Yeah. I think that was really an eye-opener, I think, to everyone, that there were even those possibilities as far as the black community was concerned. But, I—


Tyler

Did Yorty know the LAPD was going to raid the mosque, or what?


King

You know, I spoke with him just a few months ago about that situation. (Sam and I occasionally will get together for one reason or another.) He describes it now as a situation that was police provoked. And, of course, this is Sam looking back at it a long, long way. And, I think, unlike the hysteria that was going on at that particular time, it was just so new and so novel that no one really knew how to handle that situation.


Tyler

He may have been repulsed by the Muslim philosophy, too. You know, where you don't want to give credibility to a group that was thinking the way they were.


King

Yeah. Yeah. No question there is a good possibility that that was a factor in terms of that direction. But, it certainly did not alter his view toward his own team, those blacks that were a part of the Yorty team. And—


Tyler

But this led to a lot of criticism. You had [S.] Wendell Green leading a committee criticizing the attack and having a big rally at Second Baptist Church and teaming up with the Muslims; Earl [C.] Broady and all of them coming to the legal rescue, Walter [L.] Gordon [Jr.], Loren


420
Miller [Jr.] coming to the defense of the Muslims.


King

Yes, you did have a number of people that were participating. It was a very difficult situation because of the fact that black communities in general wanted major kind of changes. There had been an evolution, though, in Los Angeles, and a lot of the changes had occurred and had taken place. And it was really a lot of the surrounding communities where there were larger problems.


Tyler

In what surrounding communities? What do you mean? South Central L.A. was still—


King

Torrance, where you could not buy a house in Torrance, tracts out there that were going in. Monterey Park, same thing.


Tyler

You mean the open housing that had been broken in L.A.


King

It was, yeah, it was falling, see, because at that point, people were able to get into View Park, Baldwin Hills, Leimert. There were a lot of changes and things that were going on: the nightclubs and all were open-door policy. The places of entertainment were not a factor. Been a lot of changes that were occurring.


Tyler

Downtown, the restaurants were open.


King

All open. City hall had opened up to a large degree.


Tyler

Come to think of it, I never thought of that,


421
because, '60 to '64, during Yorty's administration, that stuff all collapsed.


King

Yeah.


Tyler

Because in '60, it was, you know, still heavy residue.


King

It was the fact that he had such an open, clear support for the blacks that were around him, until it just radiated out. I mean, there wasn't any, prior to that, there was no such thing as, let us say, a mayor going around and in his entourage—not his employees—were blacks with him. That was the first time that ever happened in this town.


Tyler

On the basis of equality.


King

Oh, clearly.


Tyler

And where he's going to go himself with blacks into restaurants and eat, and there's not going to be any acceptance of a psychology that, well, you go your social way and I go mine, because we don't want to face these unpleasant problems there.


King

Yeah. Those changes occurred, and I think that he's a person who should get some of the credit for those things. But it wasn't fast enough, and there were so many things that were layered above that. You know, the voting rights issues, the equal accomodation issues in the South, all of those kind of things. We still had some real


422
problems, but he was supportive on the fire department issues, even went a lot further than just blacks. I mean, a reduction of the height level because—


Tyler

Asians or Mexican Americans.


King

Yeah, all those kind of things were put on the table. Now, all of them never did mature until later dates. But that was—


Tyler

But some of that all wasn't his fault, because the fire department had to go [and] the blacks had to go through the court because of the bureaucratic resistance to anything.


King

Yeah, he told Alderson, for instance, that—



423

Tape Number: XI, Side One
July 23, 1985

Tyler

Okay, you can go ahead whenever you'd like.


King

Probably one of the most unusual things that is totally unknown as far as the political history of Los Angeles is concerned is the whole, best scenario of blacks in relation to a mayor. This was a situation where Sam [Samuel W.] Yorty—going back now to about early 1960—was always a person who was a political-type person. Political animal, I guess, is what we generally call ourselves. Well, a number of us had sat around, probably five or six people—a couple of people out of the Watts area, couple of folks off the Westside, couple of people out of central Los Angeles—and we were talking about the fact that we were not getting our fair share of activity as it applied to the city government. There had been the vanguard established by a few people with the two-four committee; that was a committee that said that we would politically make an effort for two state senators and four assemblypersons, based upon the reconfiguration of the state, as far as the ten-year period. Every ten years, this state is required to redistrict or establish new political boundaries. Somehow we just felt that the time was absolutely ripe to make the move as far as city government was concerned. Traditionally, in the past, we had had very few


424
commissioners, and those commissioners who were there had served well, so they had not fallen at anyone's feet, and we had a basis to move forward on. One of the important things was that we knew that we must submit quality people in order to see to it that all of the necessary kind of essentials were taken care of if and when we got commissioners. Now, Los Angeles, since the mid-1920s, had established a commission form of government. And therefore, it meant that the power was extremely diluted and commissioners could carry significant clout. So we recognized the whole political situation that was there, and then it was a question of how could we access to it so that we would be in a position to make some moves.

There was at one time in Los Angeles a group of basically Westsiders, basically conservative, honest, wealthy people, who had had a major impact. I think they used to call themselves the Committee of Fifteen. They met on a weekly basis, and they impacted upon what happened in Los Angeles: what city department heads were placed in, and what people went on to commissions, and, by and large, they had a major impact. I think it goes back to Asa [V.] Call and his group, who did an excellent job. They certainly were not in tune with any particular sort of forward movement for this community, but they, in their own minds, felt that they were doing a good job. But they


425
always had the access situation. So we started looking at the situation and we wondered what we'd be able to do with [Norris] Poulson because Poulson seemed to be making some gestures out to the black community. Poulson and his wife [Erna Loennig Poulson], for instance, had been guests over at our home when my grandmother [Sadie Nelson King] was here visiting, and, basically speaking, there was a significant increase in the activity of the mayor as far as the black community was concerned.

Anyway, we analyzed the situation and it turned out that even though Poulson had not done a very creditable job in total, that the entire black leadership of the town seemed to be leaning in the direction of Poulson, which was kind of an oddity. Poulson was basically a conservative, basically, and when we say conservative, we're not trying to type him, because it is somewhat difficult, but certainly he was not one who was making any great strides as far as improving the racial impact. Now, you got to remember, 1960 there were not any black members of the city council. The only minority member of the city council that had been there was a Hispanic; that was Ed [Edward R.] Roybal, who, by the way, did an excellent job as a city councilman, but blacks had not moved into that particular level. So we began to think, is there a legitimate possibility of us actually locating a candidate and putting


426
our particular candidate into the race? Well, a rather fortuitous meeting occurred in the new county courthouse. Sam Yorty, a former congressman, former assemblyman, had become fairly vocal during the 1960 convention that took place in Los Angeles. He was stridently opposed to the Kennedys, had gotten his share of ink in connection with that, and had really always wanted to be mayor. Sam had filed to run for mayor as far back as in the 1930s. That, of course, was simply, another [one of the] indices that he was strictly a political animal. He had been out of politics in the sense that he was out of electoral politics. So one of our guys by the name of Everette [M.] Porter was walking into the entrance, on the Hill Street side at 111 North Hill, new county courthouse. And he saw Sam getting on the escalator. He called Sam and said, "I'd like to talk to you," and Sam went on up to the second floor and came back down to the first floor on the next escalator. The question was posed to Sam, "Would you like to get together and talk to a small black community committee, about your running for mayor?" Sam was such a political animal, he was ready to run for mayor before the question. We met; if my memory is correct, we met that night. And we met in Sam's office. And we talked about, first of all, his concern for running, which was A-1; there wasn't any question about that. We didn't have to analyze
427
Sam's past. We knew that, number one, that Sam had no objection to having blacks in his office because there was a lady (and now I do recall her name). Her name was Ethel [C.] Bryant. Ethel Bryant was a black woman from the Pacoima area who ran his office when he was in Congress, which was most unusual to have a black, and consistently. Ethel was then called in and then began to look at the situation, and the commitments were there from the beginning, as far as that race was concerned, that blacks would have a very significant opportunity to be able to fully participate in city government. It was the key opening and it was done by half a dozen people with a commitment to see to it that the city of Los Angeles made some dramatic political changes which we mistakenly thought would have a great economic impact. The fact of the matter is that the economics needs to be supported by the political, but the political, standing alone, or the political being first, will not have that much impact on the economics. Got to be in business, got to have a business attitude, got to have business acumen, got to have the skills and the background if you want to make money. You can't do that too effectively without, at least, political linkage. But we, I believe, overfocused on it and felt that the panacea of the problems would be to be able to access the mayor's office in Los Angeles.



428
Tyler

Would you say the economic impact was blunted or not there because patronage actually had been wiped out some time ago? Was patronage a question, or was it a problem that the mayor just didn't come through, or was there just confusion over politics and economics?


King

Oh, I don't think it's really a mayor's fault or a governor's fault. You got to be out there in business and looking for the business situations or you will get so immersed into the social concerns of a community until most of what you will be doing will not be in terms of hard economics, but will be in terms of programs and grants and things along that particular line, and the level of social acceptance. I think that the emphasis on business—a person who is going to make a success in business has to have a driving commitment to make a success. Now, will you make money if you are successful? Well, the answer is not necessarily, because you can be extremely efficient in terms of what you do and have a lot of the linkage, but that does not necessarily mean that you will be effective as to timing and other kind of things in order to make money. You have to be able to see the opportunity long before it's generally seen, and then you have to begin to energize those things, which in some cases [is] somewhat described as risk-taking. But you have to have access to the information in order to be able to make a fairly


429
intelligent decision. But the whole situation was then that when the race began to move along, we picked up a lot of support from all levels of the community. We picked up support in the [San Fernando] Valley, because the Valley had felt very alienated, as they were growing like Topsy out there. And San Pedro area, which was remote, and what had generally happened was that everyone, and throughout the city, with the exception of the central city, was feeling that they were sort of being left adrift and that the direction was not there and that the assistance was not there as far as that community moving. So the reason why I would say that there was never really a change in terms of the basic attitude of Sam Yorty—which was, I thought, and again it's subjective in terms of thoughts along that line, which I thought was the continuing commitment to the blacks—was because of the fact that it was not a situation where these were Sam Yorty's blacks. It was the other way around. It was Sam Yorty who was the blacks'—I'm talking about now the group that put him together—he was the blacks' mayor. There was that level of relationship. We went, we had access and went in and out of the mayor's office for the first time in the history of this city. And again—


Tyler

With a level of respect and command, not hat-in-hand approach.



430
King

From the time that you entered into the garage downstairs, all the way, the respect was there, because the chief executive of city hall respected the people. Just in terms of relating the personal situations, now, because I was community-based, in the sense that I was involved in a lot of community activities, it meant that there was a wide spectrum of folk that I related with. And when I think back on this situation, things that happened that were absolutely amazing to, say— The community just didn't have any big amazement to me at all. My wife [Anita Givens King] had a surprise birthday party for me on one occasion, and half of city hall was at my house, starting with the mayor, for this surprise birthday party when I came in, and I was legitimately surprised. First of all, you know, when you're getting that age, you're not thinking about birthday parties.


Tyler

[laughter] No?


King

[laughter] Yeah. I was in my early forties and my best years, because they were fun years and there was a lot of change that was taking place. And I guess I perceived to some extent that I had some impact on the social changes out there. So I was always— I had a very, very high self-image. I felt that I had done something good, both for the black community, for myself, for my family and for indeed all of Los Angeles, because I felt that these kind of moves


431
were helping.

So historically, the bottom line is that Sam Yorty was a black committee's candidate.


Tyler

Now, he served three terms. Did you or members of that committee always feel that Yorty fulfilled his obligations to the black community? Was there some fault in a part of this committee or increasing criticism, alienation, and breakup of this political group?


King

Not at all. Five out of six of us— When it expanded, of course, a little bit. I would say it expanded to about ten people. All ten—I'm sorry—nine out of the ten were there twelve years later. Nine out of the ten. And when you just look back, I mean, the team never left. Team never left. Richard Jones worked in the mayor's office for the entire twelve years. Extremely talented man—


Tyler

Is he still around?


King

Not only is he still around, he's in his eighties now. He is a very viable person, very operative with the major Baptist church, the Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles, and is a state commissioner on aging, appointed by [Governor George] Deukmejian. He is still having significant impact; and in his eighties, he is also one of the vice presidents of the local NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], was one of the co-founders


432
of the Black Agenda [Inc.], and, from what I understand, is an excellent bridge player. Now, I don't play bridge. [laughter] I'd never be in a room when any activity like that's occurring. Okay, that's one.

Now, Everette Porter first went on as a police commissioner and then later ran for Congress.


Tyler

What? Against [Augustus F.] Hawkins?


King

Against Hawkins. He lost in the primary. Then—


Tyler

What year was that he ran against Hawkins? 'Sixty-four? 'Sixty-eight?


King

I guess it was '62.


Tyler

'Sixty-two?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

That's from the beginning.


King

Yeah, that was when they had open primaries. He later was made a municipal court judge—


Tyler

Everette Porter?


King

Everette Porter. And he ultimately resigned, and then he—


Tyler

Was that an appointment by Yorty?


King

No, no, no. Municipal court judges are appointed by the governor and he was appointed by [Governor Ronald] Reagan. Yorty had a major influence on that appointment. Because Yorty was the person who recommended Everette Porter to the governor. And the appointment was made. So


433
the team never left. And—


Tyler

That was true of Judge Billy G. Mills, too, through Yorty's offices; he was appointed later to a judgeship, that family court of law?


King

There was a good deal involved as far as the Billy G. Mills appointment was concerned. There were a lot of us who were involved in that appointment, and it goes really back to the— It had some other kind of political overtones that were involved in it, and Yorty was one of those who was a supporter of that particular situation, because it was what Billy wanted and desired to put together. But it wasn't a heavy Yorty support but the support was there. Another thing that is probably not that well known as far as Yorty is concerned is that Yorty was one of the principal backers of Tom [Thomas] Bradley.


Tyler

How's that?


King

Well, our committee was impressed with Tom, and we met with Sam, and told Sam that we would like to see if it would be possible to get an appointment of Tom Bradley to the city council. There was a vacancy that occurred because Navarro, who had been the tenth councilmember, had run for city controller. He had won the job of city controller, and it left an opening. It was—


Tyler

What was Navarro's first name?


King

As well as I knew him, I cannot really recall.


434
[Charles Navarro] So it left this opening, and we spoke with Sam Yorty about appointing Tom Bradley. Or, let me back that up; it was actually a council appointment to be ratified then, basically by the mayor's office. And Yorty used the influence that he had, and we were not able to gain the necessary votes in order to put Tom in. But we did come up with five votes for the appointment.


Tyler

The council was twelve members then?


King

You know, I've really forgotten whether it was twelve or fifteen at that particular point, but anyway, we had five votes, I recall, and it was insufficient in order to get him through. But we had the full support of Sam Yorty.


Tyler

Now, this is 1960.


King

We are now—


Tyler

No, '62, '63.


King

—about '62.


Tyler

Late '62.


King

About '62.


Tyler

Right. Bradley comes in about '63. Now, the council—


King

Well, actually, there was one person in between.


Tyler

Joe [E.] Hollingsworth.


King

Hollingsworth was appointed—


Tyler

By the council.



435
King

By the council. And, at that particular time, we were just absolutely certain that a black was going to be appointed, and, of course, when Joe Hollingsworth was appointed, what we did at that particular point was we began to move toward trying to see if we could work with him. It became evident that it would be rather difficult to work with him.


Tyler

Why?


King

Not that he was particularly negative. He just wasn't particularly responsive.


Tyler

To what?


King

Meetings, getting together, just basically maybe the political courtesies.


Tyler

He didn't want to establish a relationship with city hall or the black community?


King

Well, he didn't want to establish a relationship with those of us that perceived ourselves to have some level of political impact that were not a part of the basic Democratic machine.


Tyler

He was a Democrat.


King

He was a Democrat, I believe. That's my best recollection.


Tyler

Or was— I thought his background was from the business community and he didn't have much of a political record, or did he?



436
King

No, he didn't have much of a political record. And the acumen that he showed in terms of showing deference to our committee was not there. I can't remember over a very, very few times of even being able to meet with the guy. And, of course, I lived in the district.


Tyler

The Tenth?


King

Yeah.


Tyler

This is part of the Tenth.


King

Yeah. My home is in the Tenth [City Council] District, and I felt that I had, you know, at that particular point, I felt that, both as a constituent and as a person who was involved in political movements— Now, by this time, I had been out on the front line for twelve years or so, in terms of the political arena, because I really started in the early fifties. And our team had kind of started in the early fifties. This is part of the same team that was involved in putting together the black community for Goodie [Goodwin J.] Knight back in, I guess it was '53, when we supported Goodie Knight. In fact, we had the first fifty-dollar-a-plate dinner for any politician given by blacks. So we were really beginning to sense that it's about time now that you have to acknowledge where we are and who we are and that our support is meaningful and that in an environment that has a lot of various groups of political pundits that we were out there


437
and we had to be dealt with. And we could not be dealt with in the same old sense as before, because we had seen victory, we had seen situations changing, and we had been there as part of the vanguard. Now, to a large extent, we were a little bit different than most of the traditional Democratic groups, but we related with anybody going in our direction. Now, of course, I was a Republican at all times, and it meant nothing to anyone at all, because we were all trying to become politically more sophisticated and to make some effort to be involved in both parties. Now, it seems—


Tyler

Why was there sort of a consciousness since the fifties to be involved in both parties? Or sixties, early sixties?


King

Well, there were some of us that were involved in each of the parties; most, about 90 percent, of course, were involved in the Democratic party, but—


Tyler

I mean of this mayor's committee, that group?


King

The mayor's committee had mostly Democrats.


Tyler

Were they heavily involved in the party machinery?


King

No, no.


Tyler

Oh, they were mavericks like Yorty?


King

We were all, I guess, if you— I don't quite understand the term "mavericks," because it was my view that—



438
Tyler

Sort of running off from the group—


King

No, I thought the group was running off from us. [laughter]


Tyler

[laughter] The other way around. Okay.


King

But, I enjoy the use of the term "maverick." I like it.


Tyler

[laughter] The group was running the wrong way. You like to reverse things, don't you?


King

[laughter] So—


Tyler

[laughter] "I wasn't leaving them; they were leaving me." You know, well, that's what a number of people [say] who were Democrats who turned Republicans: "I didn't leave them; they left me." [laughter] What's her name, Bobbi Fiedler. I mean, that was all they argued. "I didn't leave it; it left me." [laughter] A whole lot of Democrats.


King

And, there was interaction and there were a few people who clearly were fighting the battle, and we— It was more fun, really, in the Republican party and more difficult, because there you didn't have a lot of the rhetoric that you had over on the Democratic side. I mean, the rhetoric over there was a little bit different than the actions, but there wasn't any rhetoric. Well, it wasn't just an overstatement, but there was considerably less rhetoric that was over on the Republican side. And on the


439
Republican side, you got what you could legitimately demand, and, hey, what you could legitimately bring forth in terms of support and votes and other things. That's what you got. I mean you got it on the basis that it was quid pro. I mean, if you could bring something, you could get something. If you couldn't bring anything, you couldn't get anything. There wasn't the tokenism kind of situation; well, they didn't see any need for tokenism. I mean, if you couldn't impact on that whole political surrounding situation, hey, you got exactly what you brought. You drew interest at the bank on the money you put in. You were rarely able to take a small amount and you know, catapult to the front with it. So it was a very interesting situation. We saw a lot of movements that were out there. Some of the movements were good. We ended up, I think, initially with nine commissioners being appointed. Now, there—


Tyler

You mean black commissioners?


King

Black commissioners, in a very, very rapid-fire situation.


Tyler

Nine out of how many possible commission appointments?


King

Well, the number has expanded now, and I think it's up, it's maybe like a hundred and thirty now, but at that time, if I just had to take a guess, I would say, and again


440
I'm just guessing, I'd say about ninety. Could have even been a little less than that. But you know the political situations, they always expand in terms of number. But we got like 10 percent of the commissions.


Tyler

Yeah, I guess they didn't wipe out everybody on commissions; they wanted some continuity and stability, right?


King

Sam Yorty's no different than any other politician.


Tyler

He wiped out everybody and put in whole new commissioners everywhere man for man?


King

He wiped out about 80 percent of the people. And those people that he did not wipe out were basically people who were supportive during the final campaign or who maybe had covertly supported by not participating heavily in the Poulson campaign. But if a commission had five people on it, you could bet the family farm that there would only be one left and that would be for continuity.


Tyler

[laughter] Yeah, and he'd be removed shortly, eh?


King

Well, the four of them, you could bet, would go. And there were good reasons. Number one, there was a difference in who was holding the mayor's seat. Persons entitled to their people who have loyalty—their team—and I guess, in a sense, to go the Yorty way. Yorty decided that with our assistance that city hall was going to be opened up, and city hall was opened up. Tremendous


441
changes. Everybody does clearly understand, of course, that there were the constraints of the civil service system, for good or for bad, but it was no longer the days down there where blacks were not significant and viable. They were sitting in on the major committees of this administration.


Tyler

Now—


King

No, let me point this out. When you talk about nine commissioners, now, my family came to Los Angeles as a unit in 1938. My grandmother had, of course, been here in 1905, just couldn't make a living, and left. But my family, now, during that period of time, there were never more than, if my recollection is correct, there were never more than three city commissioners. And I think we had mentioned that it was like—


Tyler

The police?


King

—Paul, Paul [R.] Williams, internationally outstanding architect who was very politically active. He was—


Tyler

Republican?


King

—significant as a national Republican. And you had [George A.] Beavers, who was from the largest local business, which was Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company. And you always had the black spot on the police commission [Los Angeles City Board of Police


442
Commissioners]. I mean, that was the whole wrap-up. And then, to talk about a situation where all of a sudden, you went, like, to nine. Now, there was one other person that was on, and that was that Gus Hawkins's brother [Edward A. Hawkins] was on the public works commission [Los Angeles City Board of Public Works Commissioners]. So you had an almost complete doubling of the number of commissioners. And all of a sudden they were visible. I mean, they were visible out in the black community. The people who were appointed were not the people who were in a more secluded kind of an environment. They were open activists, clear, visible people that were moving around in our environment, the society that was going on—not society necessarily in terms of a class approach, but the total society. They were active and they were out there and they were doing things. The level of popularity then of commissioners was fantastic. Being a city commissioner in the sixties meant almost that when you walked into an activity you could almost see the red carpet roll out because commissioners were making decisions at that particular point. I think today to talk about city commissioners, county commissioners, to talk about state commissioners, it does not carry the political overtones or impact or, in fact, real sort of status and influence over the political system.



443
Tyler

Why?


King

Well, number one, there has been a proliferation of commissions and ad hoc committees. Certainly, every time now anything that comes up, the standard situation is to appoint an ad hoc committee to make an evaluation. And the blue ribbon committees have come, and instead of those things, once the report is made, there is a tendency for them to ultimately stay on the books. And when you look now at a situation where— I believe that when Deukmejian went into office I got hold of the plum list, which is really the list of appointments that are available. And, of course, even though you could go to a local library and get the plum list, it is not particularly meaningful just to see it; you have to relate it to what's really going on out there. And I think that there was something like twenty-three hundred appointments that were available to the governor. Now, that twenty-three hundred was only just half of the iceberg because there's another seven or eight hundred where the governor really has impact, but they are appointments within the departments to advisory committees. Now, the advisory committees are sometimes called—


Tyler

Oversight?


King

Well, they have a number of names, but basically they're all really commissions. Some are statutory boards; some are boards created by the department itself. There


444
are new situations that come along. An example just today, meaning in recent times, you have the Afro-American Museum [of History and Culture] that's located near the [Museum of] Science and Industry in Exposition Park near USC [University of Southern California] and the [Los Angeles Memorial] Coliseum area over there. Well, when that was put together, a new commission was formed, and that meant about four more appointments by the governor. It will soon be five appointments by the governor, so it tends to expand. It expands a few at a time, but when you add up all of the things, you have the situation now with all of the counties that have county fairs, and these county fair boards. Now, there are boards put together by the [Los Angeles County] Board of Supervisors, in addition, so you've got this great proliferation, expanding of the number of commissioners, probably two-, three-fold that has occurred. And also, [for] commissioners, the appointment process was a major political situation. I mean, it was reflected in the Los Angeles Times when you were appointed a commissioner and what city councilman so-and-so had to say, who voted in opposition of the appointment. And so— [laughter] Today, I mean, you just don't hear anything like that. If there is a meaning of the word "rubber stamp," what happens is, say, the mayor makes the appointment and the rubber stamp goes into effect and 99
445
percent go through and nobody knows it at all. I mean, it just doesn't have any public attention that's given to it, but, I mean, there were TV interviews and radio coverage—


Tyler

In the early years. [laughter]


King

Yeah, every person who was appointed a commissioner. You know, I remember the fanfare around my mother's [Leontyne Butler King's] appointment to the library. There'd never been a black on the library commission [Los Angeles City Board of Library Commissioners].


Tyler

So there was a real sense of importance.


King

[laughter] Oh, goodness, yes. I'm telling you—


Tyler

Do you think that that has dampened or harmed black patronage toward politics, because those commissions don't seem like a real reward anymore or something to hand out?


King

Well, what has happened now is that what people must do is that they must now promote themselves in relation to the appointment. And it can be done—


Tyler

To make it important.


King

They have to make it important. And it certainly can be done, but it means now that it takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. You have to probably pay the photographer—



446

Tape Number: XI, Side Two
July 23, 1985

Tyler

Now, what I was going to ask you, is there any validity at all—be as frank as you can be—[to the claim] that when Yorty came into office, and you've already mentioned that there was a political— In terms of him not confronting chief of police William [H.] Parker, I've heard people say that Parker himself or someone came into Yorty's office with a thick folder of files or dossiers on Yorty that kept him quiet and kept him in line. Is there any truth to that, that some form of intimidation by Parker kept Yorty supportive or quiet on his activities in relationship to the black community or L.A. in general?


King

Well, I've heard that story over and over throughout the years, and I would not doubt that everyone, if the closet was open, could undoubtedly find something that they would not want necessarily openly and notoriously vented about them. But, in all the years that I was around Yorty, I never really saw anything that would cause me to question his basic integrity, question his commitment to be a leader politican that was any way out of the norms, following the basic mores that were followed by politicians. There were fun and games, of course, that went along with it, and there possibly should be. There should be in any environment that one is in, whatever it happens to be. There are


447
the social implications and the limit on what one can do with time. Now, what I'm simply saying is that, by and large, Yorty was never with the mainstream—"never" might be a slight overstatement—the mainstream of the Democrats. He was never a Democrat that you had to look at and say, is he way to the left, because he was never to the left at any point. I never found him in a position where he could be compromised by saying that he was pinkish or anything of that nature. Pinkish, at that time, being a colloquial term for soft on the communist line, the fellow traveler—


Tyler

Or a fellow traveler, almost. But, now, there's people who claim that Yorty used to go with Dorothy Healey: he was an early radical that shifted to the right later or away from left.


King

Well, you got to remember now, Dorothy Healey and a lot of those people, as far as our community, were some of the first people—not only to our community, I'm sure, but to other communities—they were the first people that were reaching out. Now, they had their motivations for what it was doing for their purpose—I wouldn't say the first. But, I mean, they openly and clearly came into the community, and you got to remember now, these people didn't wear T-shirts that say, "I am a communist." They didn't wear the— There was nothing to cross their back that said, "I am a fellow traveler," "I'm a leaner," and this, that and


448
the other. And a lot of those people weren't that generally known when they were beginning to get involved out there. They gained their reputation as time went along. And, by and large, the black community never really went for the communist line at all. They basically were really a conservative community.


Tyler

Is that the reason why?


King

Well, I think there could be a number of reasons why, but I was talking about the results more than I was the reason. But I don't think that we were in any great position where we started showing a lot of biasness that was anti-interaction with people from other communities, because basically the top Democrats and the top Republicans were not available for fraternization anyway. The Democrats to some extent would come through on horseback and—


Tyler

[laughter] Would pass in through at a fast gallop—


King

Hey, you know. So I don't know. By and large, I don't think that the black community did not buy off on the pinkish approach because of the fact that their agenda was so rigid. And even though it talked about being supportive in the blacks' area, I think it was clear to all of us that they really didn't have the political capability unless there had been some major structural change. They didn't have the ability to carry out the rhetoric. We had the


449
other situation of knowing who had the power.


Tyler

Plus there was some danger associating with known or out-and-out [Communist] Party members.


King

But the party members again weren't that clearly and easily identifiable.


Tyler

That's somewhat after the fact. Now you can see, looking back, where they were secretly or covertly associated with the party.


King

Sure you can. There were a few blacks that were directly associated with them, but very, very few. Basically, the black community just didn't buy off on it. I mean, I think that there was a little time that they were both on the same track, but they soon hit a Y in the road. Because, again, blacks really were not interested in a rebellion kind of situation; they weren't willing to trade off what they had, even though they lived in ghettos that virtually had fences around them. They still were not willing to trade off those gains that they had made for a speculative situation. I don't think anything has changed today. I think that, by and large, you're looking at 95 percent of the blacks that are anti— Ninety-five? Ninety-nine percent are probably not taken in by the communist situation. I don't know that they're particularly anti-communist, because "anti" tends to talk about overt acts. I just think that they just have no consciousness nor


450
concern as far as the Communist Party is concerned. I mean, there's no need for people who are already frustrated to go further to a point where they would be alienated from the existing power structure. The best thing to do is to attempt to influence, and I think that that was basically the conventional wisdom of the black community, that communists basically were just bad news. And we've got two strikes on you already. I mean, why step into the batter's box with the ball coming down at ninety-five miles an hour. I mean, the ball was designed to hit somebody else, so why let it hit you, too? There was always— Certainly, I mean, the blacks that went with the Yorty administration could have cared less whether or not there was a Socialist Party or a Communist Party; or, really, I think that it could even go further and you could say that the people that were the initial black supporters of Yorty basically were almost all independents. I guess that's the equivalent of saying mavericks, but they were almost all independent.


Tyler

Now, again, did Yorty ever express any sort of subtle or overt intimidation by Parker? Did they ever have any major differences during his twelve years in relationship to his approach to the black community, or lack of an approach?


King

Yorty was a law-and-order guy in the sense that he


451
felt that there was a need to maintain order. I think that the business community to some extent tends to dictate that, that you cannot do business where there is disorder. That you cannot effectively pursue legitimate gains unless there is reasonable control of the streets. And there was a large parallel between Yorty and Parker along that particular design. I think that initially Yorty was convinced that he would be able to have an impact on the police system in this town, because he had the opportunity to appoint the police commission. A police commission at that time had a lot more—at least the perception was there—that the police commission could do a good deal. The reality is, though, that the police commission is an advisory group and can have a minor impact on what happens with the police department. But it is very difficult to have citizens meet for a few hours a week, vis-a-vis the entire staff of the— There're just tiers of staff that meet, you know, five days a week, forty hours a week. So a commission can only have some impact at the basic policy level. Now, Parker was a guy who I say was probably good for the total community at a time when he came along, because he basically represented a level of honesty that this city was reaching out for. They were tired of the corruption, the graft, and the other kind of things. I believe that Parker probably had more of an influencing
452
position than anyone in Los Angeles. And to take Parker on, with his great popular support that he had, was enough of an intimidating factor, and I don't necessarily think that Parker would have to have an in-depth dossier on folks to be able to influence them. He was part of this pluralistic society.


Tyler

Let me halt it there.



453

Tape Number: XII, Side One
August 7, 1985

Tyler

You know what we need to do is cover the Watts riot, and then we'll go from there on up, because you were an actor in there. What happened? Could you see it coming? Did it surprise you? Just tell us about the Watts riot.


King

Is it on?


Tyler

Yeah, it's on.


King

Oh, okay. Well, I guess in order to talk about the Watts riot, it's impossible not to, say, go back and look at some of the conditions that tended to create the atmosphere. Some of those things dealt with a level of expectancy that was moving along in our community at a very rapid pace during the mid-fifties. Things were beginning to appear to be falling in line; there was some coalescence of the community [that] allowed certain kind of issues: integration in the fire department, brutality by the police department, lack of job opportunities in some things like in the major hotels as waiters, in terms of being able to see people come through the school process and become professional. A lot of things were creating a thing called hope, and hope is the kind of thing that, when the bubble explodes, problems occur too. We were beginning to measure the rate of increase that we were seeing in terms of where


454
we are and where we were on that socioeconomic scale. More blacks were opening small-cash businesses; professionals were hanging their shingles. So we just knew that things were going to be looking up. The black papers were being distributed in downtown L.A. You could buy the [Los Angeles] Sentinel outside of the city hall, and there was no big problem about it.


Tyler

Had that been a problem in the past?


King

Oh, back in the forties. But it had all sort of simmered down, and things were moving, really moving along. The whole view was one of an upbeat approach that, hey, we were going to make it work. We had good, ambitious ideas in connection with increased political representation. We started the movement of the two-four group, which was basically a group that says that we need two state senators and four members of the assembly, and, as you well know, that all came to pass. But the seeds were planted in the late fifties: the feeling that there was a certain amount of political influence for a while, the first times we felt that we had put together an agenda and that that agenda, if ever put into full working force, would be able to be almost a panacea of a lot of our problems. Unfortunately, though, the premise that it was put together off [of] was that if we got elected public officials somehow we would be able to have access to the decision tables and that we


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would be able to, in that way, strike down the barriers that possibly impeded our forward progress. As you well know, in 1955, blacks were making about 55 percent—these are based on median incomes—of the amount of money that whites were making at that time. And we could see nothing but uphill coming and that we were going to be able to take the hill. Of course, we do know the grim reality now that some thirty years later the percentage of income among blacks vis-a-vis whites has gone only up one point from 55 percent to 56 percent. We also know that we had probably less than sixty employees—sixty elected black officials in this country—and I'm probably being too kind when I say sixty in 1955. Today, 1985, we have over six thousand and there is some question as to whether or not our progress is really tied directly to the election of black officials. At that time, though, the idea was that we must gain political seats in order to solve the problems of our community. And we worked hard and diligently in that direction. We have later found out, by 1965—it was abundantly clear at that particular point—that the way that black politicians were able to basically get in and maintain their power was to make a commitment basically to the white electe