Clinton Pardons Black Who Asked Draft Board to Call Him `Mister’

(02-22) 04:00 PST Washington — President Clinton granted a pardon yesterday to a 63-year-old political scientist who went into self-imposed exile almost four decades ago after his draft board in Georgia, learning that he was black, refused to address him as “mister.”

The pardon for Preston King, a professor at the University of Lancaster in Britain, overturns his 1961 conviction for draft evasion and allows him to return to the United States for the funeral of his oldest brother later this week.

King had said at the time of his conviction that he was willing to report for an Army physical and serve in the military so long as the draft board in Albany, Ga., referred to him as “Mr. King” instead of “Preston.”

The board, which had used “mister” in earlier correspondence to King but stopped after its members learned of his skin color, refused. King was convicted of draft evasion by an all-white jury and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Among those who had recently called for a pardon was the trial judge in the case, William A. Bootle of the federal District Court in Macon, Ga. In a letter to President Clinton last year, Bootle, now in his 90s, said that King had “followed his conscience just as Rosa Parks had followed hers.”

A White House spokesman, Jim Kennedy, said Clinton had “considered the facts, the law and all the circumstances involved here and decided that clemency was appropriate.”

“Preston King was one of the first people who stood up against government discrimination,” said one of his lawyers, Elizabeth Holtzman, the former Democratic congresswoman and Brooklyn district attorney.

“He was denied an extension of his draft deferment because of his race,” she said in an interview. “He was addressed in a demeaning fashion because of his race. He was convicted by a totally segregated jury. In a way, this case reflects not just Preston King coming home, but this country coming home.”

She said that King, who was traveling last night to London from his home in Lancaster and was not available for an interview, would return to the United States tomorrow for the first time in 39 years.

King’s oldest brother, Clennon, a prominent civil rights leader who was committed to a mental institution for a time because he had the temerity to try to enroll at the all- white University of Mississippi in the 1950s, died last week at the age of 79. He will be buried on Thursday.

Preston King graduated magna cum laude from all-black Fisk University in Nashville in 1956 and received a deferment from military service that allowed him to study for a master’s degree at the London School of Economics.

He has said that the draft board refused additional deferments and began to refer to him simply as “Preston” in letters, dropping the “mister,” which was routine for white students, when he appeared in person at their offices in 1958 and the board’s members realized for the first time that he was black.


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