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Remembering Mel King

Mel King campaigns for mayor of Boston. (Ira Wyman/Sygma via Getty Images)
American educator, activist, and writer Mel King campaigns for mayor of Boston. (Photo by Ira Wyman/Sygma via Getty Images)

Mel King was a politician, a community organizer and an advocate. But he was also a friend, a husband, a father and mentor. Today, we remember him as all of that and more. King died late last month at age 94. Recently, we sat down with four people who knew and worked with King to remember him as the community knew him.

Kim Janey is the former acting mayor of Boston and president of the Boston City Council, and now the president and CEO of EMPath, a Boston-based nonprofit; Tito Jackson is a former Boston City Councilor, and current CEO of Apex Noire Cannabis; Michael Curry is the president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and serves on the board of directors at the national NAACP; and Reverend Ray Hammond is co-founder and pastor of Bethel AME Church and co-founder and chairman of the Ten Point Coalition.

Below are highlights from their conversation, which have been lightly edited.

Interview Highlights

On meeting Mel King for the first time:

Janey: "I grew up in Roxbury and the South End. And in the South End in the time that I grew up, this was a period when all of the adults in the neighborhood, in the community, knew all of the children. And so I've just always known Mel because of where my great grandmother lived. She lived on West Canton Street, a brownstone one street over from where Mel King lived.

"He was just always ever present. He was one of the many adults that cared for the children who would play outside. This was a different era. We'd play outside —kickball, soccer ball, tag, all of those fun games — and you would see Mel in the community.

"He was larger than life. He was just this beautiful, tall, black man. And you always knew that he was doing something important. But as kids, we were just kids. He was just Mel King. We didn't kind of really take in and really know the significance at that time.

"It was probably when I was around middle school age where I really understood that Mel King was this prominent leader in our city and got active and started kind of paying closer attention to his leadership in his work."

On Mel King running for mayor and that legacy:

Hammond: "[There's] a direct line from Mel King as that first candidate to Mayor Janey as the first person of color and the first woman to to occupy that office. We often think about it in terms of the white-Black dynamic. But really, Boston is so deeply ethnic that the whole story of politics for all of its history, until Thomas Menino was Yankees and Irish people.

"I mean, Menino was the first Italian mayor. We still haven't had a Jewish mayor. I mean, things that other cities take for granted that I kind of took for granted. We're still struggling in Boston.

"And I think I was stunned. I mean, once I'd had a sense of the dynamics here that he did what he did, the way that he did it with the dignity that he did it. Man, I wish we could run some of those tapes for the juveniles who were passing themselves off as national leaders and legislators now. I mean, it's just incredible.

"I mean, he had a point of view. He was sometimes seem to people as being, 'radical,' but he carried himself with such dignity. He treated Ray Flynn, anybody else in the political arena like they're human beings. And we have lost so much of that. So, I think in so many ways it was it was powerful."

On Mel King as a futurist and a visionary:

Curry: "If you ever heard him speak, it's that tone; he was calculating. Every word was intentional. He was unquestionably brilliant. That pierces ignorance. So I don't care if you were in Charlestown on a street corner when somebody was angry, that ignorance will be disarmed in many cases by someone like Mel King ... if you have that ability to walk in to the danger zone, which essentially would be considered enemy.

"I was on those buses in 1975. I was seven leaving Roxbury and going over the bridge to Charlestown, to the Warren Prescott School. I remember the rocks pelting the bus. I remember having to duck down. I remember the fear, a palpable fear, that was in the the bus at that time.

"For him to know that I'm not afraid I'm going to go out and do that. You have to have a special skill to do that, which, I argue, I'm honored to know people who are like that today who could do it."

On Mel King's family and their commitment to his work:

Jackson: "His family shared him ... the sharing of this amazing being and knowing that is their rightful place. And so I just want to also honor the family ... his wife, children, and and just honor them for sharing this amazing man and not being selfish in any way, opening their home ... to us, and there's a solace that I kind of have now because this brother did it.

"He did it the right way. And the legacy is there and intact. And it's up to us to live up to that."

This program aired on April 10, 2023.


Amanda Beland Producer/Director
Amanda Beland is a producer and director for Radio Boston. She also reports for the WBUR newsroom.


Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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