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CNN Today

King: 'I'm Delighted' to Return to U.S. After 39 Years of Exile in England

Aired February 22, 2000 - 1:32 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: An African-American from Albany, Georgia, is getting ready to end 39 years in exile. Preston King has not set foot in the United States since his 1961 conviction for draft evasion.

CNN's Aram Roston has his story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARAM ROSTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Preston King can finally return to the country where he was born without being arrested.

PRESTON KING, PARDONED FUGITIVE: America is my family. These are my people. And I'm more of a southerner than I am an American.

ROSTON: When CNN interviewed him last November, he showed he was proud of the act that has haunted him for so long.

KING: People who would oppose me would say: draft dodger. I would say: This is an act of civil disobedience.

ROSTON: More than four decades ago in the then-segregated South, when the educated young African-American man was dealing with the draft board in Albany, Georgia, he insisted he be called "Mister," as would a white draftee.

KING: But, if you are going to take me into the army in what is apparently an arbitrary fashion, you should certainly not accept that you are entitled to address me with disrespect.

ROSTON: He refused to cooperate. And in 1961 he was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to 18 months in prison. He fled.

KING: I wasn't at all inclined to give satisfaction to local bigots by sitting in one of their jails.

ROSTON: In exile in England, he became a distinguished writer and professor. King was not allowed back into the U.S. even for the funerals of his parents and the funerals of three of his brothers. The campaign to get him a pardon has been a passionate one for his family. They expected him home last Christmas. Even the judge who sentenced him called for his pardon. Saturday, Preston King's oldest brother died. Because of the pardon, Preston King will be in Albany, Georgia for the funeral. And he will find a very different place.

Aram Roston, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: And today, Preston King is the head of the political science department at Lancaster University in England, and he joins right now by telephone from London.

And we thank you for being with us.

I'm wondering, sir, did you think this day would ever come, and how does it feel now that it has?

KING: Can I correct you for just a moment. I'm not head of the department, I'm past head of the department.

ALLEN: Surely. Thank you.

KING: It moves around. Now, return to your question, sorry.

ALLEN: Sure. Did you think this day would ever come, and now that it has, how does it feel to you?

KING: Oh, I always hoped it would come, but I assumed it would come much earlier than it did. Now that it has come, that's excellent. I'm delighted that it has. Most importantly, this is a very somber occasion given the death of my brother, and I'm very pleased to be able to reenter to gather with the family and to see the children of my deceased brother. So, I'm very pleased with that.

ALLEN: Well, you've obviously done very well with your life in exile. Are you still very proud of the stand that you took then, and, if you had it to do again, would do the same thing?

KING: It's not a question of being proud of it, it's a question of doing something that one felt one had to do. I'm not very long on the question of pride. There are too many proud people in the world. But there are elementary stands it seems to me the decent people will take, should take, ought to, and I think I made the right call, and I'm pleased that I did.

ALLEN: Has it been painful living away from the United States and away from your family?

KING: To be cut off from your native land is always painful. After all, practically the whole of my first 20 years were spent in the setting. My family were there, my friends were there, my schools were there, and all that was taken away. There are very elementary things part of your formation which make you a human being and which reintegrate as a part of your, you know, ability to see them again and to converse with them and to interact with them, and all that was stripped away. So, that was painful, yes, inevitably. ALLEN: As you mentioned, these are sad circumstances. You're returning for a brother's funeral. Beyond that, what do you think it will feel like just returning to the United States after what happened to you?

KING: I don't know. I'm a little bit numb, but I'm -- I'm, you know, going back, and there's a great deal of expectation. I don't know what to expect. It -- I mean, it is an obviously radically- transformed scene from when I last saw it, and, you know, God knows what I'm going to find, but I'm sure there will be a lot that's good in there and a lot that will be sad in there, but I'm going with great expectations in any event.

ALLEN: Preston King, perhaps we'll catch up with you during your trip or perhaps afterwards to hear your impressions. Thanks so much for joining us from England.

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