From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul


Some people dream of great accomplishments, while others stay awake and do them.

Constance Newman

Since my mother taught me to read at the age of four, she thought it best to enroll me in school to take advantage of my eagerness to learn. I was not old enough for public school, so it was necessary to enroll me in a private one.

Now, when I say private, I do not mean affluent. This was the segregated South, back in the early 1960s. My school was actually a house with the first, second and third grades combined in one room. It was a bare-bones classroom, but it truly was a home. My ability to read earned me the respect of my teacher, and I had friends. I was liked, I was comfortable and school was fun!

But what I really wanted to do was to go to Funtown. I can remember seeing the commercials on television. I didn’t know exactly what an amusement park was, but it looked like people had a good time going there, and I couldn’t wait to go there too! I remember bothering my parents about taking a trip there, and asking, “When can we go?” What I didn’t know at the time was that Funtown was for whites only.

Daddy was always leaving, it seemed, to go somewhere and to help someone, and it was Mother who had the lion’s share of taking care of the family. She was the one who tried to explain words like “racism” and “segregation” when I asked, again and again, why I couldn’t go to Funtown. We took many trips to the airport as a family, to drop Daddy off, and we would drive right by Funtown going both ways. I could see Funtown. Why couldn’t I go in?

I don’t remember how Daddy finally explained to me I couldn’t go. I know that he wrote and spoke about the fact that it was very difficult for him. Although he was a powerful orator, this time he was at a loss for words. How could he tell his beautiful little daughter that she could NOT go to Funtown, because she was a child of color? My father stated that event “caused the first dark cloud of inferiority to float over my little mental sky.” I guess it did. But there was worse to come.

When I was in third grade, I was transferred into the local public school. Although this school was still segregated, the majority of students were the children of middle-class African Americans, or “Negroes,” as we were called at that time. These parents were the doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals in the community. Many of the teachers at this school came with degrees earned from some of the best historically black colleges of the day.

Unfortunately, school there was no longer fun. I was taunted and teased unmercifully by the children of these middle-class professional families. I came home crying to my mother, and telling her the mean things the children said to me. They called my father a “jailbird”! Jailbirds were bad people. Only bad people went to jail. Why were they saying my daddy, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was that kind of person?

Oh, I cried many tears over those comments. My mother spent hours talking to me and trying to explain my father’s work. She tried to teach me about hatred, laws and equal access. She told me there were many people who didn’t have enough food or proper housing, and how my daddy was working hard to help everyone. She told me about Africa and slavery, and how our people were forced to come over to America in slave ships, and after all of these years there was still much suffering and so much work that had to be done. Yes, my mother laid it all out for me, but I really didn’t get it. I could not grasp what all that had to do with my daddy not being home and having to go to jail. What did that have to do with my world and what was happening to me?

I don’t know if it was divine wisdom or sheer frustration over my tears, but finally Mother told me that the reason Daddy had to go to jail was so that I could go to Funtown. That was it! I got that. I thought, If my daddy is going to jail so I can go to Funtown, well great! He can stay as long as he needs to. After that, nobody could tell me my daddy was a bad man.

My daddy was a good man. A great man. A man who was not only helping the world, but knew the value of the little things that mattered to me, too.

My daddy finally did take me to Funtown. It was a big deal, with media and cameras everywhere, but do you know what? Funtown wasn’t all that great after all. What was wonderful, and important, was the rare opportunity to spend time with my daddy.

Yolanda King, daughter of
Martin Luther King Jr., with Elodia Tate

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