Dissident May Return A Hero

Preston King left the country rather than fight in the Vietnam War, but not for the usual reasons, CBS News correspondent Morley Safer reports.

King was ready to report for service any day, if only the draft board would address him properly. Now, he wants to come home, and a judge may clear the way.

In the mid-1950s, King was granted deferment from the draft board because he was in graduate school. Throughout his entire correspondence with the board, he was referred to as 'Mr.,' and 'Sir.' But when he finally paid a visit to the board in person - and it was discovered that he was black - his deferment was ended.

Adding insult to injury, King says the board also started calling him by his first name, rather than afford him a courtesy title, as it had done before it was known that he was African-American. So he went back to Europe - this time without Uncle Sam's blessing - and when he returned to the U.S. again, he was sentenced to jail.

So he left again, with little hope of coming back.

"To be parted from anything that is very intimate to one is a pity," King says. "Especially when it's unnecessary, so unfortunate."

King has built a good life for himself in England, where he is a professor of political philosophy at the University of Lancaster. But he longs to return to the U.S. to see his family and to participate as a new federal building in Albany, Ga., is dedicated to his brother, civil rights activist C.B. King.

Recently, federal judge William Bootle - the same judge who tried to put him in prison years ago - changed his tune and began calling King a hero rather than a draft-dodger.

"I have come to the conclusion that it would be appropriate to invite him back home - and that would mean to wipe the slate clean and grant him a pardon," the 96-year-old judge, who is retired from the bench, said in a recent interview.

King expressed happiness upon hearing the judge's words.

"It's gratifying to think the judge...should have the courage to come out as he has done to say that that whole process was basically a mistake," King says.

The judge's change of heart aside, the law of the land has still not changed with respect to Preston King.

"There is an obligation on authorities manning the frontiers of the country to arrest me," King says. "And I wouldn't expect them not to."

Even if King came back tomorrow and the U.S. welcomed him with open arms, there would still be pain: while in England, he missed the funerals of his brothers in the United States.

For now, King must be content with the knowledge that the Justice Department is reviewing the case.