Our Mothers Ourselves

Talmadge E. King Sr.: "If Your Father Builds a Wooden House..."

June 20, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7
Our Mothers Ourselves
Talmadge E. King Sr.: "If Your Father Builds a Wooden House..."
Chapters
Our Mothers Ourselves
Talmadge E. King Sr.: "If Your Father Builds a Wooden House..."
Jun 20, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7


For a Father's Day change of pace, Katie speaks with Dr. Talmadge E. King, Jr., a world-renowned lung specialist and Dean of the Medical School at the University of California, San Francisco.

In the 1960s, Dr. King's father, Talmadge King Senior, born in 1922 in the segregated South, was recruited by the small community of Darien, on the Georgia coast, to serve as the city's first African American police officer. 

Mr. King instilled in his five children a sense of doing better with each successive generation. He offered a simple metaphor: "If your father builds a wooden house, it's your responsibility to build a brick house."


Show Notes Transcript


For a Father's Day change of pace, Katie speaks with Dr. Talmadge E. King, Jr., a world-renowned lung specialist and Dean of the Medical School at the University of California, San Francisco.

In the 1960s, Dr. King's father, Talmadge King Senior, born in 1922 in the segregated South, was recruited by the small community of Darien, on the Georgia coast, to serve as the city's first African American police officer. 

Mr. King instilled in his five children a sense of doing better with each successive generation. He offered a simple metaphor: "If your father builds a wooden house, it's your responsibility to build a brick house."


Katie Hafner :

Hello, and welcome to a special Father's Day edition of Our Mothers Ourselves. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. Happy Father's Day. My guest today is Talmadge Everett King Jr. Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco. As a pulmonologist, Dr. King is a world-renowned expert in interstitial lung disease. Dr. King is also the son of Talmadge Everett King Sr. In Darien, Georgia, where he and his wife Almetta raised their five children. Talmadge Sr. did electronics repair and sold seafood door to door. And then, he was so highly respected a member of the community that when Darien integrated its police force in the 1960s, people in town on both sides of the racial divide recruited him .Talmadge Sr. Always looking forward, seldom looking back, raised his kids by way of this metaphor: "If your father builds a wooden house, you build a brick one." Dr. King, I want to thank you so much for joining me today on Father's Day to talk to me about your dad.

Talmadge King :

Thank you. Appreciate having the opportunity.

Katie Hafner :

I have to disclose that I know you. And I've heard through the years that you were close to your dad.

Talmadge King :

Yep.

Katie Hafner :

And he died, I understand. He was 95? Is that right?

Talmadge King :

Yes, in 2018.

Katie Hafner :

And he lived a very full life. So I'd like to go try to go through that life with you. Let's start with what you know about his his childhood.

Talmadge King :

So my dad was born in South Carolina, in a town called Sumter, it's in the center of the state. Farming kind of community. And then as a child, he moved with his mother, who had separated from his dad to St. Simon Island, Georgia. And it's one of the small islands off the coast of Georgia. At that time there were not many inhabitants on the island. So he grew up on the island, and then there was no school for black kids there. So he ended up going to a church school that was established by the Episcopal Church. And he was he did that in a town called Darien, which was about 17 miles away from where he actually lived. And after finishing his education, he then went into the army.

Katie Hafner :

Okay. So let's, we're going to tease this apart a little bit. So he was born in Sumter.

Talmadge King :

Yes.

Katie Hafner :

And his dad's name was Marcus?

Talmadge King :

Yes.

Katie Hafner :

And his mom's name was Mamie?

Talmadge King :

Mamie Watson, yes.

Katie Hafner :

Mamie Watson. And what do you know about about his parents' parents and their parents?

Talmadge King :

Well, Mamie Watson grew up in a small town in South Carolina called Pinewood, which is near Sumter. They were farmers basically, sharecroppers, but they also had a, you know, small business in the town.

Katie Hafner :

And what do you know about the Kings going back?

Talmadge King :

Yeah, so my, my grandfather was, his father was Cherokee. And it, and it turns out, we don't, I don't know very much about my great grandfather. And my father also didn't know very much about him. He only met him once or twice in his entire life.

Katie Hafner :

Mm.

Talmadge King :

But he was very connected to his dad. So I knew him, my grandfather, Marcus King really well, and I spent a lot of a lot of time with him. In fact, we've spent a lot of summers at my granddad's. He had land of his own. He grew his own food, he had animals. And he had a little store.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hmm. But so, but Marcus and Mamie, are they the ones who split up early?

Talmadge King :

Yes.

Katie Hafner :

Did he, did your dad tell you stories about growing up on St. Simon's Island?

Talmadge King :

Yeah, so my, my dad, it was, it was a great place to grow up. Right. It was a small, safe community. My, his mother Mamie was a domestic. All the time I knew her she worked for the same family on St. Simon. They're very relatively wealthy. I never got to know them. They she kept that pretty separate. But what's interesting is my my grandmother, Mamie, my dad's mother. She actually worked for the Talmadges.

Katie Hafner :

You mean the Herman Talmadges?

Talmadge King :

Yeah, and that's how my dad got his name. So we never completely understood that story. But at that time she worked for that family, but it doesn't sound like that lasted very long as my dad was growing up, but there was some relationship there that was never spoken.

Katie Hafner :

That's really interesting. So wait a minute, I'm trying to get the timing right. So Mamie would have, so Mamie was Talmadge Sr.'s mom, and she would have worked for the Herman Talmadge family before her son was born because she named him Talmadge? Is that right?

Talmadge King :

Yes. Yeah. There was some something about the family and that family name that ended up with my dad being named Talmadge, and it never was clear to me. What if anything was was there? But so it had to be, so that had to be in the 1920s. So that was well before Herman and Eugene were prominent.

Katie Hafner :

Right. I mean Herman, you know, Herman himself. Wasn't he a famous segregationist?

Talmadge King :

They both were. They were awful. Yeah. Well, one was governor and one was senator, couple of bad actors. But, but Eugene, somewhere at the, at about the time, because let me see Herman may have died already. But Eugene was around in the 60s when all of this was going on. He was not a nice... anyway, he was not a nice person. So I...

Katie Hafner :

Well in Georgia. At the time, what a mess.

Talmadge King :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

There were lynchings.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, so it's interesting. I never heard a word about that. And I went to the Montgomery Museum, and I and I went through and look for all in all the places I've lived in the south, actually every place that lived to see whether there were lynchings. And I was shocked because my dad would have been about ten or eleven the last time there was a lynching in either Macintosh County or Glynn County, the two counties that we lived in. And so it was surprising to me because I never heard him talk at all about it. Actually, nobody in my family talked about that. So he would have been old enough to have experienced it and understand what had happened, but he never mentioned.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hmm. What do you think was his reason?

Talmadge King :

Well he didn't, my dad didn't, didn't wallow much in the past. He'd keep as a forward thinking sort of person. And he didn't. Actually, I was so sad that I couldn't go back and ask him. Because I'm sure he would have had a story to tell. But I never did have an opportunity to ask him.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah. And so he went to this school for black children because because black children couldn't get educated in white schools, so he went to this school, the church school, an Episcopal Church?

Talmadge King :

Yes. St. Cyprian.

Katie Hafner :

In Darien. How did he get back and forth?

Talmadge King :

My grandmother's brother lived in Darien and was a member of that church. And that was it. And he lived probably three blocks away from it. So he may have stayed with him.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. And what's your sense of the kind of education he got?

Talmadge King :

I think it was, you know, but not very strong. I don't think that it was- they had limited resources. And I think that he, you know, he wasn't very well prepared, and then the war came out. So that's how he ended up in the army.

Katie Hafner :

And he went into the army in what year?

Talmadge King :

Must have been in the early 1940's. Because he got out, he got out two years before I was born. So, so he must have been in in like '44 to '46. He was in the Philippines, mostly but he was in Australia and the Philippines.

Katie Hafner :

And do you know what he was doing?

Talmadge King :

Well he, he was an infantryman at the beginning and then he and then he took up electronics and got trained and became an electronics repairman. So that was this trade that he got while he was in.

Katie Hafner :

You know, when you say electronics now, we kind of know what you're talking about. But back then what was electronics?

Talmadge King :

It was cathode ray tubes.

Katie Hafner :

Uh huh?

Talmadge King :

And radio, right? So he did radio repair. And then he went and he started doing television repair, and then you know transistors came along, and it evolved over time, but he...

Katie Hafner :

A very enterprising guy from what I can tell.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, he did. He did a number of things. He was never not busy.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah.

Talmadge King :

I would say he was always working. And he, he was fiercely independent. He did not want to work for anybody. He wanted to work for himself. So he was willing to try a number of different things to make sure we were all provided for.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. Let's dial back a little bit to... It sounds like he met your mom, the love of his life, back in Sumpter.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, the stories I've heard, actually since her death, is that they they knew each other but they weren't, they weren't sort of a thing until he came back from the on the military. And that's when they became closer and then got married.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hmm. Do you think, do you think he sought her out?

Talmadge King :

It was always a joke about who sought who out who. But my cousin Elizabeth, who was in between them agewise. So she, it turns out she knew them both absolutely well. Like she, she's my dad's first cousin. But she grew up in the same, we went to the same school, so she knew Almetta and Talmadge. And so she tells a different story than either one of them told about how they got together. Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

So it's different versions depending on-

Talmadge King :

On who's telling the story. They were, they overlap. But, but they... because if you hear her tell it, she was the one that introduced Almetta to Talmadge. Cause Almetta had a crush on him, but you know, so who knows?

Katie Hafner :

Well, who wouldn't have a crush on him? The photo, I guess that's her wedding photo, that you sent me. She has a, looks like a carna- a white carnation in her hair.

Talmadge King :

Yep.

Katie Hafner :

And he's got this wonderful hat on and he's looking very almost mischievous.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, yeah. You want to know what he's thinking!

Katie Hafner :

Yeah you definitely want to know what he's thinking! That was in '47, and there and that would have been in Darien.

Talmadge King :

Sumter. No in Sumter.

Katie Hafner :

Oh in Sumter. I keep getting these places confused. So you're one of five kids?

Talmadge King :

The oldest so far.

Katie Hafner :

You're the oldest. So you're Talmadge Jr. With the dubious name Talmadge. And your memories of your dad are that he was always busy. He did his electronics repair. He sold fish?

Talmadge King :

Yes. Out the back of the truck. Yes, I helped him with that a lot.

Katie Hafner :

Oh, you did? Was it at a market?

Talmadge King :

No. So he went door to door. So so we grew up on you know, grew up on the ocean. And grew up in a fishing town actually. So-

Katie Hafner :

Darien.

Talmadge King :

The boat, yeah, the boats would come into the dock.

Katie Hafner :

Uh huh.

Talmadge King :

And they would come in on Monday, Tuesday, he would get the fish usually on Wednesday. We'd pack it up. And he would drive about 50 miles away to the inland of Georgia.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hm.

Talmadge King :

But he would sell it door to door to farmers and people in basically in rural areas who just didn't have access to it. So you go from one farm to the next, selling fish or bartering for his fish or whatever.

Katie Hafner :

What kinds of things would get bartered?

Talmadge King :

Mostly food ,so you know, watermelons. Some number of watermelons for a pound of fish. Or vegetables. And, and then, and then money. Mostly cash, but people didn't have money. He would, he would barter with someone and then sell what he bartered at the next place.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hm.

Talmadge King :

It was a, it was a fascinating thing to me.

Katie Hafner :

And you were how old when you were part of this?

Talmadge King :

Oh, until I went to high- he stopped doing it when he became a police officer. So I was in high school. Maybe he was doing it after I left Darien. But throughout throughout, as far as I can remember, that was something he did.

Katie Hafner :

And people must have known he was coming.

Talmadge King :

Yeah. So he, over the years, they expected him on Thursday and they expected them about a certain time. So he had the same route after he'd established it.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hm.

Talmadge King :

So they knew Thursday at 10 he would probably be there. So people were waiting for him. And there are a couple of tiny towns where he would go door to door in the town, a town called Blackshear, Georgia. Places like that. Really tiny. And there was, there was no person that he met that wasn't a friend of his, you know, he was just that kind of personality. So, so he made friends very easily.

Katie Hafner :

So as you were watching this when you were a little kid, it must have made an indelible impression on you.

Talmadge King :

Oh, yeah, I mean, I I mean And he, he, he would, he would talk to me a lot. We I'm sitting in the truck with him and we're talking about a lot, a lot of things. And, and, and he would talk about how he would handle certain situations and how he dealt with certain kinds of people. And he would, he would explain how he sized them up. And they you know, it, you know, he, it would seem like he had known them for a long time, and you'd have no idea that he'd never met them. I mean, it was amazing to me.

Katie Hafner :

And did he sell the fish to both the black and white community?

Talmadge King :

Yes. I would say mostly the white community because they, they're the ones that had the resources.

Katie Hafner :

So this was the 1950's in a largely segregated South. And your dad, he sounds like a person of incredibly positive spirit.

Talmadge King :

Yeah. That's the way he was. And a gift of gab. I mean, he, I mean he could just start talking to you, and you, and that's what I meant, you would think... he would come back to the truck and I said, "Well, Dad, you know how do you know that guy?" He goes, "I don't know him, I never met him before." You'd have no idea from the conversation that he had never met this person before.

Katie Hafner :

Amazing.

Talmadge King :

But he just had a way of bringing it out of people and joking with them. And he was a good salesperson. Let me tell you a sales story. So this is a seafood story. So we were, we went to this one farmhouse. They didn't have any money so the guy wanted fish. So he said, "I will trade my watermelons for your fish." And he had pink watermelon. You've seen the pink watermelon? They're instead of the sort of oblong watermelon you get that's red.

Katie Hafner :

Uh huh.

Talmadge King :

These are round and it's very sweet and juicy. It's a very different taste. So we, he loaded up, I don't know how many but maybe five to ten of these watermelons and we exchanged the fish. So we drove less than two miles to the next big farm. Andd my dad got out to sell, try to sell them the fish. And the guy looked in the truck and said, "Oh, you have some pink watermelon." You know, here's what he said, "You don't get those around here." And my dad said, "These are really good. We got, you know, I got them really special. I thought I'd sell it to you." And the guy says, "Well, we never get these around here!" So the guy bought all of the watermelons. We got back in the truck and I'm like, "Dad, what are you talking about? That, we just got it from the last farm." He says, "Don't worry, these are the best watermelons he's ever had and it could walk down the street and get them himself." But he was, it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. He had the straight face like, "These are really special. I just got these to bring." I mean, he got his money the next stop!

Katie Hafner :

That's good! So what, why, when and why did he become a police officer?

Talmadge King :

Wasn't his choice. Because remember I told you he didn't want to work for anybody. So the community drafted him to be the, to become a police officer. So they came to him, the black community came to him and said, "You're the, you know, basically you have to do this." And he absolutely did not want to do it. But he was drafted into it.

Katie Hafner :

And was it just because of the times and there was so much turmoil, or was it? Was there a precipitating incident that-

Talmadge King :

It was, it was the times that we were in. This is in the '60s.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Talmadge King :

It was when all the crises were going on. And, and the desire to integrate everything really, but the police department in particular. And I would say the other thing was that the prominent white members of our community knew him pretty well.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Talmadge King :

And my, they had to pick someone everybody in the community knew and respected. So my dad was, I would say, without question all respected on both sides of the racial divide. And, and he, you know, he made it a point to honor anything he said. And then because he was doing all this repair work for people, people got to know him in that way. I would say there were only a couple of the prominent members of the community who we avoided.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah.

Talmadge King :

My dad would not would not, you know, work for them or go to their businesses. But most of them he, he knew and they respected him and he he joined the city police at the beginning. And then eventually, he spent most of his career on the in the sheriff's department.

Katie Hafner :

And do you know why he made the switch to the sheriff's department?

Talmadge King :

Yeah, so this the sheriff's department, they paid a little better and they were much better people. I'll be honest with you. The my mom did not like the other city police he worked with. In fact, most of them she would not let him house. She would always go outside and talk to them at theirr car on the street because she just didn't like them. And she didn't want Dad working with them.

Katie Hafner :

These were white guys.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, he's the only black guy. So they, all the rest were. They, they were pretty nasty. And so then he joined joined the sheriff's department. The sheriff. So we lived not far from the sheriff's department. So we knew them. We knew that, we knew the sheriff pretty well. My dad knew him, really. And so he joined that department once the sheriff realized he could integrate the department.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. Do you know how he was treated?

Talmadge King :

I think he was treated okay. The thing that my mom was so, the thing that my mom was upset about. And I'll tell you the rest of the story. The second was, he was almost always given the graveyard shift. And so, and that meant that he was often out in a car by himself in the middle of the night. And so she, she didn't like that at all. And I think that's what led me, one of the things that made him leave the city police is that they were unfair in their assignments. So on top of, you know, rotations. And the sheriff'sdepartment was, was at least better. People rotate at different times. And this is, and then after I left home and whatever. So my brother, big, my brother went to college and studied criminology. Came back and was a police officer in my hometown as well. And became my dad's boss. So in charge of the department, working. He was second in command at the sheriff's office. My mother's first thing to my brother is, "Okay, now I'm gonna tell you what his schedule is." So he, so he says he gave you could have the schedule she wanted him to have.

Katie Hafner :

I love that.

Talmadge King :

So, and we lived in a very integrated community. I mean, this is small town. So there was it was actually pretty much no black section and no white section. And where I grew up, there were whites on. We were the only blacks on our block. Well then dad bought the block. So that made it easier over time.

Katie Hafner :

Wait, your dad bought the block?

Talmadge King :

Yeah, you know, he just bought up all the things all around us. Right? One house at a time. We're talking about a small town, a, you know, a small poor town. So you're not in a place where things are turning over quickly and there's a lot of growth. It's never grown. He wasn't in, you know, Los Angeles or someplace where you could turn things over and make a profit. But he, but that's what he did. He'd buy someone's house and go in and refurbish it and then sell it. But it wasn't. It wasn't like you hear about the real estate moguls in big towns. He basically, his philosophy was, 'If I own the land, that's one thing is harder for them to take from me.'

Katie Hafner :

Mm hmm.

Talmadge King :

For him, owning land was like a critical thing. And there were a lot of forces against him. I mean, he wasn't able to really take advantage of the GI Bill to where he should have been, given that he was a vet.

Katie Hafner :

Well blacks got, blacks got locked out. I mean, technically, they were supposed to get benefits but there was so much discrimination, right?

Talmadge King :

And actually, that that started to change. And like he had trouble like getting loans from the bank for his business and that sort of thing. He was always overcharged on interest. In fact, you know, I'm in charge of the estate now. So I've gone back and looked at some of the, some of the you know, some of the contracts he had with the bank. And it was like awful how much they overcharged him. And what he did was he always tried to just pay it off, understanding that he was being ripped off.

Katie Hafner :

And so we're you s- you must not have been surprised when you went back and looked at the papers to see there were these outrageous interest rates he was being charged.

Talmadge King :

Yeah. I remember talking to my sister about the fact that, you know, I looked at one and he was like, the interest rate was like eleven percent or something. Ten to eleven percent at a time when it should have been like six. And I'm like, it's crazy. But anyway. He just, he was always just making it work and then... But he but he kept working at it. And he also realized that there are people who were not who are not, there to help him. They were, they would do anything to keep him down. He- Several stories he told about that.

Katie Hafner :

What, what-

Talmadge King :

Well, well, well, one, one that really, really affected him. So I must have been around, must have been less than ten years old. I was a little kid then. And he got a new truck. Up until that time, you know, his truck, all his trucks were sort of used or whatever. He actually had enough money, he went and bought a new truck. And he went to the ice house to buy ice in preparation for one of these trips to sell seafood door to door. And the guy who ran the ice house looked at his truck and asked him where did he get it from? And he said, "That's my new truck." And he looked at him and he said, "You know, I will do anything to keep you from being able to do that. You don't deserve that."

Katie Hafner :

Oh my.

Talmadge King :

And because he was so blatant that he basically he would do anything in his power to keep him down. That was the last time we went to that ice house. We, we started driving 60 miles away to get ice because he would not go back that ice house. And that, you know, that really, really affected him.

Katie Hafner :

Oh my gosh. And were you there?

Talmadge King :

No, I wasn't there.

Katie Hafner :

That's horrific.

Talmadge King :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

So his way of dealing with it was just to go 60 miles to a different ice house.

Talmadge King :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah. So when, when it came time for his kids, i.e. you and your four siblings, to go to school, what would you say his ambitions for you were?

Talmadge King :

Um, heh. He had this funny way of saying it. But what he would say, what he said to me often in the truck as we were driving was something along the lines of, "If your, if your father built a wooden house, your responsibility is to build a brick house." And for the longest time I tried to figure out what the heck he's talking about. But-

Katie Hafner :

You didn't get it?

Talmadge King :

I got it, but I you know, it took me a while to realize. His thing was, expectation was, "You do better than I did. That's what, that's what, that's what I want you to do." And they, my mom nor dad, all they expected is for me to, to study. And my mother's thing was, "Be nice." And my dad basically, his whole thing was, "Don't be afraid to work." And, you know, as I said he really liked being in a position where you're not dependent on others so that you can make your own decision. I think that I don't know exactly how that happened, what happened in his life, but that really was a big issue for him. And so he, so the whole expectation was that we would complete high school and go off to college. It was it was, it wasn't that they talked about it all the time. It was just there. That's what you're gonna do.

Katie Hafner :

And did all of you do that?

Talmadge King :

Yes.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah. Did he go to college?

Talmadge King :

No. He just went to trade school. Yeah, no, no. He, over time, he went to a whole bunch of other classes and stuff like that.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Talmadge King :

Because every time something new came, he had to go back and learn.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Talmadge King :

And I remember when transistors came, he, that was a particularly trying time.

Katie Hafner :

He sounds like he was a very smart guy.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, I would say he, I would say he would say about himself was that he was he was street smart. He wasn't fooled very, very easily. Like he didn't. He was very kind to people. In fact, he would, he would loan people money, which upset us more than it upset him. And he was he was like, he was like a banker in a way. I mean, people would want to borrow things from him. And he would he he knew who to do it with, right? He didn't do with everybody. Who, for example, if somebody is about to lose something, he would figure out a way to get them the money to retain it. And I swear they wouldn't pay him back.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Talmadge King :

Except he would always say, "I'm not broke, because these people owe me." There'd be times you could see him in agony 'cause the light bill is due or he's got to buy the fish or whatever. Like, somebody, somebody's gonna pay me. And I swear, somebody would walk through the house and hand him what they owe him.

Katie Hafner :

Wow.

Talmadge King :

Like, how in the world does this happen? But he just had the faith that it'll happen.

Katie Hafner :

And it did.

Talmadge King :

It seemed like it always did. I mean, I was it was just amazing.

Katie Hafner :

And when so when you you went to college and then medical school. What, how did he react to the success that you have?

Talmadge King :

So he, I would say, I mean, he admired it a lot. The way he expressed it was really subtle. But in my view, I mean, because I got to know my dad so well, I knew when he was happy. He didn't have to say it. And I think that he, you know, well his you know, basically his son Junior's a doctor. He let the whole world know that.

Katie Hafner :

Nice. It sounds like he gave you the opportunity to have the opportunity. Right?

Talmadge King :

He never, I don't remember him ever telling me not to do something. He would listen, and sort of question it, and try to figure out have I thought through all the things. But he never said, "No, you can't do that." He would try to get me to see, you know, the pros and cons. And then if you want to do it, then do it. But you better do it well. Like when I decided to leave Darien and go to Minnesota to college.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Talmadge King :

They were not happy about that. But it was like, "Do you think that's the right thing for you? Are you prepared for being so far away?" He didn't try to stop it. He just wanted to make sure I understood what I was doing.

Katie Hafner :

Right. And did your dad ever talk about the legacy of enslavement in the country?

Talmadge King :

Not 100%. You know, there were a couple of plantations, there's a plantation near where we grew up. And he knew about what was going on over there. But he never, he never would go there. It's interesting. Like, they would ask him to come work on something, he would never go there.

Katie Hafner :

I mean to do some-

Talmadge King :

To do work or whatever. In fact, I was, I was thinking that, I was I was thinking, you know that I don't think we ever went on that plantation. I've forgotten the n- Hoefell I think it's called. But because he did police work, I'm sure he had to go over there possibly in thatm when he did that. But it wasn't, wasn't sort of a functioning thing, as far as I know. For most of my adult life anyway. It's still there, but I've never been. I don't think I've ever been there. I have no idea what it is. And it's literally five miles from my house.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hmm. But it's not a place where he would ever set foot.

Talmadge King :

No.

Katie Hafner :

Wow. So he really, I mean he, he really was a man of principle?

Talmadge King :

Yeah, I mean so so like we, he would do television repair. So back then, remember that televisions were gigantic. With the picture tube and the whole thing. I mean it's funny to see them now. And he would go in, and and most of the time when it wasn't working, it was a tube that blew out.

Katie Hafner :

Uh huh.

Talmadge King :

So you could go in and figure out which tube blew out, put it in, and the television work. So he did a lot of repairs on the house. And an example of how he worked was, if he pulled up to the house and the, and it's a white family. And they, often they would tell him, "Go around to the back and come in." He would go get in his car and leave. He wouldn't say anything, he wouldn't argue with them, just leave. Because he didn't like, he did, he didn't like being told to do that. There was no, nobody else was being asked to do that.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Talmadge King :

And, and he but he didn't. It wasn't it wasn't like an open confrontation. He was just go away. And I saw him do that multiple times. Just get back in the truck and we'd drive on away. I, you know, I think he was hurt by it, but it was like, "Well, no, if that's the way you feel about me, then I don't need your business."

Katie Hafner :

What do you think he'd say about now, what's happening? Especially with the police, I'm sure you've thought a lot about that.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, I don't, I don't know. I mean, I you know. Given that my brother, my one brother died in 2018, the one that became his boss, Ronnie. The other brother. Thornell, is actually head of the police department in Brunswick, and the state troopers in Brunswick, where Ahmaud Arbery, all that's going on. I think if he were here now he would- Basically what I think he would be saying is that police department reform needs to be done. And you got to do it from the inside. In fact, I would say what happened in Darien itself, just looking at that history. When he joined the force, there were people on it who did really bad things. And they worked to change that. They worked to weed out the guys who stopped people for no reason.

Katie Hafner :

Right.

Talmadge King :

Who were, who were physical with people that they stopped. And, you know, my brother, Ronnie, worked, you know, they did, they actually did sensitivity training or whatever we call it years and years ago to try to get people beyond that. I think that, you know, he would- What he would say is we have to have rules that get rid of the people who do wrong. That you know, it's not just, it's notm it's not bad apples, it's a bad system. And you got to fix the system. And then the bad apples will be pushed out, you know. And I, you know, I think I always mentioned that my mom, there were some people my mom, my mom said they're crazy. And they're racist. And she wouldn't, you know, you knew who they were.

Katie Hafner :

So the one thing I ask people is, if you were to describe your dad in, in one word, one adjective. What would that word be?

Talmadge King :

Kind. He was, he was just a kind man. And he would give the shirt off his back to people. And that was part of but what was it, we would be upset with him about that. But he, it's like he didn't worry about it. You know, I guess what I liked about my dad is that I can honestly say, I thought he was just a good person. You know, nobody's perfect. And I'm sure he wasn't perfect, but, but, you know, I was in that truck with him every moment I could spend with him. And he just made you feel better. You know, I wish I had that quality in me. Both of my brothers have it. The ability to just -- my dad walks up to someone and just starts talking and before you know it, they tell him everything. I, you know, it's like what, what, what is it about you that makes people so immediately comfortable? And I think is it was his genuine interest. He actually wants to know about you and would remember it. That's the other thing. I can't remember. I talk to people. You know, I remember things about my patients. But he would actually come back and see you, you know, at a time period later and recount the whole story. So that means he was actually paying attention to you. It was an interesting quality that he had. And I would say he just, he was always just making it work. And he always believed that things could be better and that he could do better. And I think that's what he, you know, tried to instill in us. I mean, I think I took it hook line and sinker, you know, he just he, he just wanted to keep things moving forward. He would always talk about how crazy segregation was. Because separate but equal was never equal. And it was, it was very costly. And he tried to convince people that this is just silly. This is not about race, it's about poverty. And opportunity. And he basically tried to instill in us, you know, this idea that, you know, you have to make your own opportunity. I mean, that's what he was always doing.

Katie Hafner :

You must miss him.

Talmadge King :

Yeah, a lot. Every day.

Katie Hafner :

I'm so sorry you lost him.

Talmadge King :

Oh, thank you. You know, he was he was proud of the progress that he and the family made. So.

Katie Hafner :

Well, Talmadge King Jr., I'd like to thank you so much for talking to me about Talmadge King Sr. It's been really great.

Talmadge King :

No, thank you very much. And thank you for allowing me to share memories of what I think was a great American.

Katie Hafner :

And that's it for our special Father's Day edition of Our Mothers Ourselves. I had editing help this week from Allison Thomas and Joseph Francis. Our theme song was composed and performed by Andrea Perry and our artist-in-residence is Paula Mangin. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. Have a great week and stay safe. [[This transcript was proofread by Benjy Wachter.]]