Screenshot from live stream of funeral services for Boston activist Mel King

By Daleel Jabir Muhammad 

The Greater Boston Metropolitan region mourns the loss of a community icon, Mel King. He was well-known for his political activism, his calls for justice, and his building bridges across the racial divide in Boston to bring about equity and educational excellence for Black youth and adults in the area. His funeral was held April 11 at Union United Methodist Church and was officiated by Rev. Dr. Jay Williams.

He served as the director of the New Urban League in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement in 1967. In 1983 he became the first Black person to reach a general election in a Boston mayoral race, and he served as State Representative for nearly 10 years. Mr. King was legendary in the streets.

He led protests to stop urban renewal and gentrification in the South End by stopping a major highway and parking lot from being constructed which led to the setup of “Tent City” that led to hundreds of occupants setting up tents to stop the construction. “He was an academic gem in the Roxbury area that set up technology in schools that still exists today,” explained Sadiki Kambon, a long-time friend of Mr. King and convener of The Nubian Leadership Circle. “When it came to work, youth was his priority.


Mel inspired me over 50 years ago to lead the charge for Advocates for Roxbury Community College, to bring about culture and academic excellence to the students. This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Advocates for Roxbury Community College because of Mel King’s influence,” Mr. Kambon fondly remembered.

“Mel King was a visionary leader that provided us with motivation and a lot of encouragement when it concerned the community,” said Albert Holland, a popular educator in Boston. Mel was a champion who loved young people, he added. “He talked about economic development as well as education. Thanks to his advocacy and persistence he established fabrication labs throughout the school system. Everything Mel did was from a deep commitment to the community and to the youth,” Mr. Holland recalled. 

“We really lost a giant and a leader. Mel was a champion for the people.”A mural of Mel King was painted on the wall at Madison Park High School in 2019 as a dedication to his lifelong work providing opportunities to Black youth in the various sections of Boston in education, technology, activism, and quality of life parity.

Mr. King served as a professor at M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Department of Urban Studies for 25 years and was the author of the book, “Chain of Change” which documented some of the challenges and changes he encountered in the Boston communities from the 1950s to the 1980s.

“The work and legacy of Mel King reverberate throughout Boston and well beyond the borders of Massachusetts,” Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey said in a tweet. “This loss will be felt just as widely. My thoughts are with his loved ones and all who continue to work toward equity and justice in his honor.”

“Mel King was really about coalition building,” said Holly Harriel, a lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies, which hosts the Mel King Community Fellows each year. “He wasn’t necessarily discipline-specific or issue-specific. If you were about humanity, personhood, liberation, justice, then Mel was with you and supported you,” she stated in the M.I.T. campus news.

Mr. King’s son Michael reflected on the legacy of his father. “He spoke truth to power, and he was pretty much beyond, above, reproach,” said Michael King, reported GBH News. “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 he would always say,” his son reminisced.

Boston native Melvin Herbert King was born October 20, 1928 and died on March 28 at the age of  94. He leaves behind a legacy to learn from and to follow.