Boston activist Mel King dies at 94

 March 30, 2023

Boston activist and state legislator Mel King, who was the city's first black candidate to run for mayor in 1983, died in his sleep Tuesday afternoon at home. 

King's son Michael King confirmed his death to the press.

King said of his father, “He spoke truth to power, and he was pretty much beyond — above — reproach. That’s the openness and the example that he was trying to set. ‘It’s not that hard to do the right thing,’ is something that he would say.”

King was an activist long before he was a politician, a community organizer who started initiatives to help the disadvantaged and downtrodden in a relentlessly positive way.

King brought people together

Ruth Batson, the founder of the METCO program, said of King, "He doesn't want to stomp all over people. He believes in teaching as you go along, so that we all come along together — maybe in disagreement sometimes, but with understandings all the time."

King fought against segregation in schools, apartheid, and the destruction of his beloved South End neighborhood as well as others that city officials called "slums" and wanted to raze.

He was elected to the state legislature in 1973 and was a mayoral candidate in 1983. He lost that race but made an impact on the city nonetheless.

Jamarhl Crawford of Roxbury said King was "our Nelson Mandela... ambassador-like, statesmanlike."

The writer Junot Díaz, who was a colleague of King's at MIT, called him a person of "visionary emancipatory importance."

King shaped generations

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement about King's death that “for decades, Mel King taught us all how to serve, how to build, and how to love. His impact and legacy stretch across the boundaries of neighborhood, race, class, and status. His transformative ideas have shaped generations of organizers and leaders who are driving us closer toward his vision today.”

King's wife Joyce said that he had fallen about a year and a half ago, and had been ill in recent months. He was briefly hospitalized at Boston Medical Center before saying he wanted to return home a few days before his death.

“We knew that it was close,” she said, adding that at the end “it was quiet and peaceful.”

King's legacy is one that today's activists could learn from--peaceful, persistent, and collaborative.

He knew that hostility was not going to accomplish what he wanted, and was able to do many things by working together and within the system to make changes happen.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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