SENTINEL 5-24-2012
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Rodney's Race

King's thoughts on prominent Blacks

The Firpo Files

(Sentinel, May 24, 2012)

"‘Hey! Over there!' We looked up to catch the tail end of what looked like a signal flair you might see the military use. Someone had shot it off over what looked to be South Central, and it was just dying out as we turned to watch it."

So wrote Rodney King in his book The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption (2012).

That flair signaled the start of the "Rodney King Riots." He further reminisced, "Momma said it felt just like it did twenty-seven years before when the Watts riots raged.

"That was 1965, the year I was born. I'd gone by 103rd Street in Watts a hundred times. Back in '65, it had been completely burned to the ground. Folks started calling it Charcoal Alley."

I was almost 12 when "the Watts riots raged," and was one of five children Ophelia Carr took to the relatively new Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses on 103rd Street, right in the heart of Watts, across from David Starr Jordan High School.

(Like Rodney's mother, my mother, too, is one of Jehovah's anointed servants.) I was with the class of 1972, and can't believe this year marks our 40-year reunion!

But I'm not alone in walking down memory lane. Prominent Blacks (and others) recall L.A.'s racial uprisings, and some of them factored into the "Rodney King Riots."

Glen (Rodney's middle name, and the one he prefers to go by) writes:

"I was fortunate to have influential people--everyone from Al Sharpton and Johnnie Cochran to Mayor Bradley and President George Bush--reach out to me with advice and encouragement." Below are some snippets from Glen's book:

President Bush: He condemned the violence and sidestepped the question as to whether or not he agreed with the initial not guilty verdicts of the Los Angeles Police Department officers that beat him. He seemed disingenuous. 

Johnny Cochran: While the legendary Johnny Cochran predicted that King could get "a cool million" in his civil suit against the City of Los Angeles, Glen's final award was exactly $3,816,535.45. "Cochran's prediction of a million had been on the low side," notes King.

"It seemed to me that with Cochran, it was only about the money." Though Cochran was never one of 27 attorneys Glen hired, "When it was all over ... I ended up with less than half of my award, $1.7 million."

Bill Clinton: As the "governor of Arkansas at the time," Clinton declared: "Like most of America I saw the tape of the beatings several times, and it certainly looks excessive to me so I don't understand the ["not guilty"] verdict."

Tom Bradley: "Mayor Bradley [L.A.'s iconic Black mayor] offered to send me to a four-year college, pay the tuition for any institution of my choice, and pay me $200,000 in case."

Granted, "I was just an uneducated mess." But, "the final total [of my award] was almost twenty times more [than he offered]."

Al Sharpton: Though Sharpton reached out to King, Glen was ultimately disappointed with Al's antics. "He had his own agenda," says King.

At a New York event Sharpton invited King to, "Sharpton never made an attempt to speak with me. He was surrounded all evening, though mostly by his entourage and suck-ups.

I just felt silly sitting there because he was the reason I had agreed to fly out to New York, on my own dime, for the event.

Maybe Mr. Sharpton wanted me to come up to the table and bear-hug him, but I wasn't about to do that."

Jackson & Waters: "Jesse Jackson and Representative Maxine Waters were among those applying political pressure." "Jackson didn't hold back. He took the occasion to really tear into Bush."

"Maybe it was just sour grapes because Jackson had wanted to meet with Bush the night after the riots erupted, but Bush had declined."

Oprah: Glen directly writes: "Oprah was cool. ... That's why she is so beloved--she's real. She is what I was trying to become, true to my people, a positive role model."

Dr. Drew: In May 2008 Glen was "part of the cast on the second season of a VH1 TV show called Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."

"I've devoted a whole chapter to it and have kept up a good friendship with Dr. Drew since the show first aired." "Dr. Drew made a lot of sense...and I guess that's what I like the most about him."

Stay tuned for Part 3.