Rodney King On Forgiveness and Being a Negro
Interview by Bobbi Booker
April 16, 2012. By phone from California.
Article appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune
Rodney King: I am so blessed that camera was on me that night.
David Gerlach: “I am so blessed that camera was on me that night.” Rodney King, of course, talking about that night in March 1991 when he was pulled over by police in Los Angeles after a high-speed chase. Officers proceeded to beat King with batons while he lay on the ground. The entire spectacle was secretly recorded from a nearby building, and that video went viral all across the country. And this was in the days before the Internet and YouTube. And as you might remember this incident eventually sparked the L.A. Riots, which were some of the worst the country has ever seen.
Bobbi Booker: Rodney King was not a person that many people had interviewed.
David Gerlach: Bobbi Booker is a senior lifestyle reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune. It’s the oldest continuously-published African American newspaper in the country. And she spoke with Rodney King when he was promoting his autobiography. It turned out to be one of the last interviews he ever did.
Bobbi Booker: So I called his home. He was in his kitchen overlooking the pool that he would eventually be found dead in several weeks later, and he was pouring himself a beverage to chat with me. When you speak with people who are in the public eye, they sort of know how to hit their mark. They’re almost always saying the same old thing. Rodney King, on the other hand, kind of surprised me. I was struck by how “average Joe” he really seemed to be. He was just a regular guy who had gone through an extraordinary set of circumstances and was still trying to come to grips with the direction his life had taken him. I found the person who was a reluctant famous individual who was really juggling how to deal with fame, and family, and simply himself.
Rodney King: I just want to say: Can we all get along? Can we get along? For me those words have worked. That’s just how I was raised. When I’m challenged to fight, first thing is: Can’t we all get along? I’ve had people say, “I want to kick your ass” when that happens. Excuse my language. “I wanted to beat you. I wanted to hurt you bad when you said that.”
Bobbi Booker: Have you come to a sense of forgiveness about the men that were involved in their assault of you?
Rodney King: Yeah. Oh yeah, I have. Because it took me time to realize in order for you to float you’re going to have to forgive these guys. Because that’s what I’ve learned over the years: if God can forgive us, then who am I to hold a grudge? Just leave it in his hands. Whenever the time comes, law of retribution will catch up with them.
Bobbi Booker: You tend to stay on the radar. With reality shows, and you’ve talked about your struggles with addiction. You’ve really laid you life to bear. So what’s coming up next after the book?
Rodney King: Well, I really appreciate being an American Negro, and I know the struggle the American Negro has went through over the years to be here still alive. And I can look back and see the events that have occurred before me and that have occurred after my situation. And I am truly a blessed person, a blessed Negro American to be alive here. And I get chills up and down my body today at the age of 47 just knowing that I have survived all these years as a black man. And I know I haven’t been an angel over the years and everything, but I haven’t been the worst either.
Bobbi Booker: It’s very interesting to hear your use of the word “negro.” Is it embracement or just maintaining the old folks style or what?
Rodney King: I’m just holding on to my heritage. Holding on to my heritage. It’s the first way I know how. And the first way I know how as a Negro American, a lot of work went into that. It took a lot of pain and life taking its time over the years. It’s on my birth certificate so I’d like to hang on to that one. African American is cool, but I like my Negro American because of the work, the marches, the deaths, the whipping, the relief of slavery. All that belongs to the Negro American. You call me African American, but I want my credit as a Negro American. I don’t know it’s going to go about at the end, but I’m working every day on my respect as a Negro American here in this country.
David Gerlach: Now I mentioned that Rodney King gave this interview around the time his memoirs came out. And I thought it was fascinating to hear him explain why he put his story down on paper. And remember: this was just weeks before he died.
Rodney King: I thought it would be good for my grandkids and my kids if they could have something to read close my words. It was very important to me to have my words out there in a book so my grandkids and my kids could read it for themselves and then if they ever need it on tape or anything like that, which they will.
David Gerlach: Special thanks to Bobbi Baker for bringing us this interview. Read all of her work at PhillyTrib.com. Amy Drozdowska produced this Blank on Blank with me. Our sound logo comes to us from Jeffrey Alan Jones. And for all the journalists listening: we want to hear your lost interviews. So drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Blank on Blank is distributed by the Public Radio Exchange. PRX.org. That’s all for now. I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.
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