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Rev. Brown on MLK's legacy in Boston05:30
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Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd in Roxbury on April 22, 1965. (AP)
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd in Roxbury on April 22, 1965. (AP)

Boston played a key role in Martin Luther King Jr.'s early life. He was an assistant minister at the Twelfth Baptist Church while he was getting his doctorate at Boston University.

Rev. Jeffrey Brown, an associate minister at the Twelfth Baptist Church and co-chairman of King Boston, joined WBUR's Morning Edition to discuss King's legacy.

Interview Highlights

What do you see as Dr. King's legacy in Boston today? 

"I see as a huge part of Dr. King's legacy the amount of energy and enthusiasm among younger leaders to stand up for civil rights and human rights, their willingness to engage in the political conversations of the day and their ability to step into leadership roles. I'm especially proud of how our younger people are now taking over a lot of the civic and municipal roles. And Dr. King would've been very proud of that."

Twelfth Baptist Church gave Mayor Michelle Wu this year's Martin Luther King Legacy Award. She's the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, and we heard a lot during the election about Black voters being disappointed that none of the Black candidates made it into the general election. So I'm wondering if you're trying to send a message about intersectionality?

"Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, Twelfth Baptist is also the home church of former mayor Kim Janey. We're also very proud that Michelle Wu became mayor in this city at such a time as this. And so our imparting this award on to her is not only an enthusiastic 'Thank you for running,' but also a way in which we can send a message and say we need to get behind our mayor and we need to continue to fight for change in our city."

Wu has been getting some hateful, racist messages. How much do you think we should read into that? Do you think it says something about Boston?

"Well, I think it says something about the times that we live in today. You know, it's a terrible thing that something like this has occurred to our mayor, but it is also occurred to our new U.S. attorney, Rachael Rollins, it has occurred with our congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley. And so it really speaks to the larger trends that are happening in our nation."

There are big national battles going on over things like critical race theory and voting rights, and we tend to think we're somewhat immune from that here. But do people who want to follow King's legacy have a role to play in those issues.

"Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, if you understand critical race theory, it really is a critique on how history has been taught, how history has been played out in our communities, and that, you know, there are enormous contributions that have happened with communities of color and marginalized communities that aren't really taught in schools. Boston is a huge example. The city is the home to one of the largest anti-slavery movements in our country, and African-Americans played a huge role in that. And Twelfth Baptist Church, the church which I serve, you know, had members who played key roles in the historical shaping of the issues around race in our nation. And so, you know, we shouldn't be afraid to be able to tell the whole story. I believe that if we tell the whole story, then we can become closer in terms of really understanding what America is all about."

King Boston is helping oversee the work on a new memorial for the Boston Common to honor Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. How's that going?

"Oh, it's going fabulously. We will be unveiling the memorial on King Day next year in 2023. So we're really excited about how that's coming. You know, the city of Boston was the home of that love story between Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr., and Twelfth Baptist Church played a central role in that. It was the secretary of pastor that had a connection at the New England Conservatory and found out about a young Coretta Scott when it was known that Dr. King was 'looking for a wife.' And so bringing them together at Twelfth Baptist so that they can go and have coffee afterward, you know, was the beginning spark."

This segment aired on January 17, 2022.

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