Few men were as eccentric and resolute in their rightness as Clennon Washington King Jr. By some accounts, he was the first African-American man to run for the office of President of the United States in 1960. He was also a history professor and pastor, however, he was unsuccessful when he ran for mayor of Miami, Florida, County Commissioner, City Commissioner and the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly.
King came to attention when as a black minister and college professor he arrived at the University of Mississippi on June 5, 1958, to register for the first session of summer school. He thought that with his family background and his experiences in Mississippi, he would be allowed to enroll. However, as The University of North Carolina Press said, “the results of King’s quixotic action surprised and disappointed him” as “Mississippi once again demonstrated its intransigent opposition to integration at Ole Miss.”
Instead of just being denied admission since no African American had ever applied to the university, King was sent to an asylum for daring to challenge the white power structure.
When he arrived, Gov. J.P. Coleman, members of the highway patrol and several plainclothes officers confronted King and forcibly removed him from the registration area. State authorities subsequently carried him to jail. Two physicians then declared him insane causing him to spend nearly two weeks in a state asylum before his younger brother, civil rights lawyer C.B. King secured his release.
A judge reportedly ruled that only insanity could make a Black man think he could apply to the university but just four years later, King’s daring act for which he paid dearly yielded fruit when James Meredith became the first black student at Ole Miss.
King was born on July 18, 1920, to Clennon Washington King Sr., a respected Albany businessman, civil rights activist, Tuskegee Institute student and chauffeur of Booker T. Washington and Margaret Allegra Slater.
King entered college at 16, earning a BA from Tuskegee Institute and a master’s in history from Case Western Reserve University. He studied Egyptology, reading hieroglyphics.
He then taught at a few Southern colleges before landing a job as a history professor at the all-black Alcorn A&M College in western Mississippi in 1957. However, controversial letters to the editor and articles by him on the subject of racial integration led to students first boycotting his classes before threatening to boycott the school.
“In March 1957, nearly 600 students boycotted classes, demanding his dismissal and hanging him in effigy after he lambasted the NAACP and openly supported racial segregation. Alcorn declined to renew his contract at the end of the 1958 school year,” writes nypress.com.
Citing persecution in the United States, he sought political asylum in Cuba, Mexico and Jamaica in the early 60s, however, he was declined. In 1960, he ran for president, representing the Independent Afro-American Party. He ended up with 1485 votes, finishing 11th of 12 candidates.
That same year, he split from his third wife, and failing to pay alimony plus an alleged botched kidnapping of his six children from their mother in California, he was arrested. He, however, jumped bail and fled to Hawaii, reportedly going to Europe, Mexico, Libya, Canada, the Caribbean and Ethiopia in a span of six years. He later returned to the U.S., turned himself in and served four years in San Quentin.
Making a run at politics again in the 70s, he failed. He unsuccessfully ran for Georgia governor in 1970, the Georgia state legislature in 1974 and the state legislature, Dougherty County Commission and Albany City Commission in 1976.
Of that 1976 campaign, King advertised a $100 reward to anyone who would vote for him. With vote-buying being illegal, King was convicted, with a judge proposing a sentence of one year’s probation. He appealed.
Becoming a pastor of the Divine Mission Church, King moved to Miami and from an apartment building he owned, he operated the All Faiths Church of Divine Mission, the Arenia Mallory School of Religion, the Miami Council for Church and Social Action and the Party of God.
He had a last hurrah with politics in 1996 when he campaigned for mayor of Miami, Florida as a candidate of the Party of God.
King battled prostate cancer for years. He finally succumbed on February 12, 2000, at the age of 79.