Life in Vicksburg a ray of sunshine|[05/04/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 4, 2007

It’s a long way from Michigan to Mississippi, by any stretch. For the tall, graying man spending the day catching rays in the late spring sun, the journey of late was more than just partly cloudy.

&#8220Man, it keeps me well,” Major King will say to anyone who asks why he loves to sit outside, motoring around in his wheelchair. &#8220I get my Vitamin D from it. That cold weather gets to my bones.”

He’s a pistol, as people of his generation would say if they heard him now. Advice and opinions in King’s tidy space in the Shadow Cliff Apartments are like his family pictures adorning his walls.

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&#8220I believe in doing for yourself,” he said. &#8220I never believed in food stamps.”

Recently, he tried to lend some advice to embattled Jackson Mayor Frank Melton during his legal woes.

&#8220I called over there but they never got back to me. I could’ve helped him out with all that!”

Given his background, at least King could have spoken from a life lived to the fullest in his 75 years.

A native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., he defended freedom as an Army gunner in the Korean Conflict, a time when military units were still segregated. He ran construction businesses for more than 30 years in Battle Creek, Mich., at the same time making his name known in the community there as being a tireless activist against street crime and public corruption.

&#8220He was very active in the community,” said Mark Behnke, a city commissioner in Battle Creek who briefly served as the southwest Michigan city’s mayor in 2000.

&#8220Major focused on getting crime out of the neighborhoods,” Behnke said.

King himself gave public office a thought, mounting a short-lived campaign for an at-large slot on Battle Creek’s city council in 1995.

In his brief flirtation with politics, King was a self-styled maverick, bucking the customary political alliances.

&#8220I was a charter member of the international black Republican Party,” he said.

What brought King south was the heat and sun that keeps him going – initially. After elected politics didn’t work out, King retired and moved to Deerfield Beach, Fla., north of Miami. But it wasn’t long before King’s idyllic tropical retirement was thrown into chaos, as Hurricane Charley slammed into southwest Florida in 2004.

&#8220I drove by myself in a Ford Aerostar I guess about 1,500 miles,” King said, foreshadowing a dark verdict for his new environs from Charley’s category 4 winds.

&#8220My nephew who was down there said, ‘Man, your house is torn up!”

He stopped in New Orleans briefly, then headed north to Vicksburg where some in-laws lived.

Since arriving here, King has bounced around from a house he rented on Lynn Street to the rent-assisted Shadow Cliff complex on Alcorn Drive.

Along the way, he’s become a member of American Legion Tyner-Ford Post 213, helping the organization to do some sprucing-up in Vicksburg National Military Park. The irrepressible King, still popular with the ladies by his own account, said he took his girlfriend on a few visits.

&#8220It took me two days to see the park. I had a real nice conversation with the historian there. Real nice guy,” King said.

King was used to the freedom and perks that came with being a business owner. Some of King’s staple suppers are now paid for only with Social Security and veterans benefits.

A survivor of car accidents, heart attacks and a stroke he blames for ending his political ambitions, King’s will to survive continues, perhaps a remnant of the hills he remembers cutting down in North Korea.

&#8220If I go to heaven, I’ll guard the gates,” he said. &#8220In hell, I’ll be the ice man or the water boy.”