Ken Hamblin sighting: Alive and well in Douglas County
Ken Hamblin, former liberal photojournalist (best known for his coverage of the civil rights riots of the late 60’s) – turned conservative Denver talk show host (aka: the “Black Avenger”), spends his time these days traveling with wife, Sue, and riding his Harley Davisdon motorcycle. At age 70, Hamblin appreciates not only where he is in life, but the road he travelled to get there.
Ken Hamblin; pariah with panache. On his radio show, Hamblin was consistently controversial, once calling himself “a messenger from the ghetto that got through.” He was once heard on 100 stations throughout the U.S. and one of Colorado’s most influential media personalities.
There he was: a distinguished fellow wearing a navy blue beret and John Lennon sunglasses at a local Starbucks yesterday. It took a moment to identify him. Egad, it was the long lost Ken Hamblin. I bribed him to talk with a cup of Joe.
The blogosphere and fans have written him off as missing or dead at age 70. Those in Colorado at the millenium remember Hamblin as the “Black Avenger,” a most controversial conservative talk-show host. Now there’s a term that needs explaining…
Brooklyn-born Hamblin found life normal until entering the Army at 17. The military was not the problem, but where it sent him was. At Ft. Campbell in 1959 with the 101st Airborne, his blackness in Dixie was a liability. So hostile was that part of Kentucky, that Hamblin used virtually all of his off-time learning photography at the base hobby shop. It was the only safe haven for his idle hours. Hitchhiking home on leave took five days, a process that often consigned him, a soldier in full uniform, to the bed of a garbage truck.
After leaving the army, Hamblin went south on humanity, especially the white part of it. He joined the liberal left as a man with a mission, getting black farm workers registered to vote in North Carolina. Being chased once by armed KKK members gave him a new determination fueled by the hot breath of hatred. As time went on, Hamblin logged up two concussions as well.
But then, an epic philosophical conversion began to take root in his soul. After fighting his way into photojournalism in the Detroit Riots of 1967 with the Detroit Free Press, Hamblin gained serious stardom and met and married Sue. His success was such that he became his own black power, transitioning comfortably into an eloquent capitalist. He got a motorcycle, a fixed wing aircraft license, and his own plane, which would help open the next chapter of his life in Colorado.
After first serving as a reserve officer with the Summit County Sheriff’s Department, Hamblin migrated to Denver and worked his way into talk radio. In the process, he became good friends with the late Allen Berg, another radio host shot to death by a racist in 1984. By then, Hamblin was well on his own road to black conservatism.
His broadcast message of self-responsibility aggravated and threatened a grievance industry whose goal is to care for the victimized of society, but in such a way as to leave them victims. Those who viewed Hamblin favorably saw him as the black Rush Limbaugh. By the turn of the millennium, Hamblin had become Denver radio’s lightning rod and black avenger, regularly discussing and assailing the slavery of racial dependency.
I asked Ken what was the basis of his political epiphany. He said he’d seen his country improve greatly. His experience was that the civil unrest of the 60’s had paid massive dividends to him and an entire nation of blacks. But, today’s problems were cultural. In 1850, a slave could cross a river to the Underground Railroad risking his life for freedom. One hundred fifty years later, there is still a river between much of the African-American community and freedom. But the river is purely symbolic, crossed only when a person makes a conscious decision to step into the main stream, takes responsibility for his own life, and seizes abundant opportunities to fashion his own American dream. Hamblin’s life is a compelling case of a man who has crossed that river and intimately understands the journey.
The tale ends well for Hamblin, but not for those left in the vacuum of his absence. After a squabble with his syndicator, Hamblin bailed as a public figure in 2003 and slipped into quiet anonymity. Today he rides his Harley Davidson motorcycle, travels back and forth to Paris, France, and enjoys life with best friend Sue. If looks are any indication, he is winning the race to inner peace.
Editor’s note: Hamblin wrote two books in his heyday, “Pick a Better Country” (1997) and “Plain Talk and Common Sense from the Black Avenger” (1999). Both are available through Amazon.com. Google “Ken Hamblin” and discover the remarkable life of Ken Hamblin – photographer, author, producer, Denver Post columnist, husband, father and grandfather… just to name a few.