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Preston King: A Little Pride Goes Along Way

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For forty years Preston King, Past Chairman of Politics & IR and professor of political philosophy at the University of Lancaster in England, has been unable to return to the United States for fear of arrest or harassment due to a 1961 conviction by an all white jury for "refusing to go for a medical" for military duty.

The story begins in 1958 when King was a student at the London School of Economics. King had received two deferrals and was applying for his third in order to complete his doctoral studies. Up to this point all deferments were handled by mail. The board secretary, Miss. Jacqueline Terry, had always addressed the letters to "Mr. Preston King" until after they met in person. Then it became "Preston." King says, "They saw I belonged to an alien clan, refused to grant me a deferment and were racially abusive in the process."

Not known for activism but not one to be pushed around King said, "my position was that far and no further. I have not the slightest doubt that you are drafting me because you want to deny me further education. But you are not going to add insult to injury. I will obey your draft orders when you address me properly." The board's reply was an arrest before Christmas on four counts of draft evasion and "refusing to comply with the local board's order to report for a physical" of which he was later convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

That would be the end of the story had King served his time. King's family was convinced that they were being taught a lesson due to their work in civil rights and therefore King would not receive justice. King's father believed that anything could happen to a black man in a federal prison in the South therefore he should leave. King skipped bail and returned to London where he has lived for much of the past forty years. There is still a federal warrant for his arrest, which is why he refuses to return to the states without a full presidential pardon.

The issue of the pardon or amnesty has recently resurfaced with renewed intensity since there is a facility being built in Albany, GA in remembrance of his brother C.B. King, a civil rights attorney. King wants to be at the ceremony without fear of arrest. Up until now, King has missed the funerals of his parents and three of his brothers. Forty years is a steep price to pay for demanding to be treated with the same respect afforded a white man in the segregated U. S. South. King says he has no regrets about his decision. "You make tough choices at difficult moments and hope they are right. Your own self-respect matters more than people think. I have never had occasion, at least in this regard, to have disrespect for myself."

The response to Preston King has been overwhelming sympathy and understanding. The Presidents of Fisk and Morehouse College have made open statements in his behalf. Further, He has several Congressmen, the NAACP, the City Council of Albany, GA where the conviction took place, the two Senators from Georgia and the judge who sentenced him on his side. Judge William Bootle, now 97, who presided over the case, acknowledges King was acting out of moral and conscientious conviction and was the victim of racism. "I think it would be an overkill to lock that fella up today, 39 years after his act of disobedience, and it's not called for."

The President has been silent on this issue. According to Julian Bond of the NAACP, who spoke with the President on behalf of King, "He made no commitment about which way he would rule on this, but I got the distinct impression that he would look favorably on a pardon for this man who, after all, has lived in exile for 39 years." The official stand of the justice department is "The Department of Justice takes very seriously any allegation that race has played a role in a defendant's prosecution. We stand ready to pursue whatever avenue of legal recourse may be available to address the issue. At this time, we are reviewing the facts surrounding the 1961 conviction of Preston King in Albany, Georgia. If the review indicates a need for action on our part, we will take appropriate steps to attempt to resolve this matter." This statement was made January 8, 1999 and to date nothing has happened.

In Feb 2000, right after this article was published, Former President Clinton Pardoned Him






Whatever you are, be a good one. - Abraham Lincoln
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