Boston says goodbye to Mel King
Boston gathered Tuesday at the South End's Union United Methodist Church to bid farewell to Mel King.
King — perhaps the city's most prominent modern Black organizer and politician — died on March 28, at age 94.
Eulogists from Mayor Michelle Wu to Gov. Maura Healey pointed again and again to King's open-door policy as evidence of his deep and abiding belief in community.
Over the years, students and musicians, civil servants and politicians, would come together at the King family home on Columbus Ave., especially on Sunday mornings, making the place a central link in a citywide chain working for progressive change.
By providing that hub, King "set a framework" for activists not just of his own generation but of those that followed, according to Rev. Willie Bodrick, II, senior pastor at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury.
Bodrick was part of the kaleidoscopic crowd at King’s “homegoing” celebration, which felt like one last big open house. The crowd featured both of Massachusetts' U.S. senators, as well as city and state officials, alongside hundreds of well-wishers in kente cloth and Easter finery and a rainbow of bowties, in tribute to King, who liked to wear them.
King’s casket arrived inside the Union Church to the sound of West African drums.
Mel King was a state representative from 1973 to 1983 — he came dressed. And though he was unsuccessful in later bids for mayor and for Congress, his students included future occupants of those roles.
Among them was Wu, who told mourners that when she first moved to Boston, brunch at the Kings meant the world to her.
"Over those little fruit cups, I found myself taking in a big helping of community, of belonging ... of love. And I walked out of there, feeling for the first time in this city, maybe my family and I could belong," Wu said.
Speaking after Wu and Healey, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley called King a mentor and a “master architect,” working to build a better world on a now-familiar progressive pattern well ahead of his time.
"He organized daily for a society where one job is enough, everyone has a home [and] is valued by their community. [Where] there is no such thing as an illegal person," Pressley said.
An astute political campaigner, King was also an artist — alongside "Lift Every Voice and Sing," his funeral included songs and poems that he composed.
A humble man, King probably would’ve bristled to hear Senator Ed Markey lionize him outside the Union Church.
Markey accompanied King as part of the Massachusetts State House's freshman class of 1973.
“On that day that Mel King was sworn in as a state representative, that was the beginning of a revolution in Massachusetts politics,” Markey said.
But with a progressive governor, mayor and congresswoman on hand to sing his praises — and thank his family — it did feel like Boston, this Tuesday afternoon, was celebrating the long, loving, colorful Mel King revolution.
This article was originally published on April 11, 2023.