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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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Profiles in Black History: Mel King

February is Black History Month and, in commemoration, each week The Mass Media will present a profile of an African-American political or social leader who has had some significance to the city of Boston.

This week’s leader is Mel King, who over the years has worked tirelessly in various fields to further the interests of the black community. Mr. King has served as an educator, political activist, elected official and community leader, among many other roles.

Born in 1928 in Boston’s South End, King attended Boston Technical High School. He went on to study mathematics at Calflin College in South Carolina before coming back to Boston to earn an M.A. in education at Boston College. After a few years teaching math at his alma mater, Boston Technical High School, King decided to pursue social activism. In 1953 the educator became a community leader, helping to end the violence of street gangs and working with the young and old to curb poverty within Boston’s black community.

King soon became the director of the New Urban League of Greater Boston, a local advocacy group for African-Americans and people of color, which boosted his local notoriety. In 1968, after the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved the demolition of a housing complex and the erection of a parking garage, Mr. King and about 400 supporters built a “tent city” on the recently destroyed housing complex. With music and food (provided by Celtics legend, Bill Russell, who owned a restaurant in the area), King and his supporters peacefully protested the building of the parking garage. Due to the vigor of the residents of “tent-city” and the media coverage of this event, another housing complex was built instead of a parking garage and was named Tent City in honor of the historic protest.

After this victory, King decided to turn his energies towards politics and repeatedly ran for the Boston School Committee, losing all three times. Then, in 1973, he decided to run for State Representative in Suffolk’s 9th District and won a seat in the state legislature. In 1983, King left the legislature and ran for mayor, in the process becoming the first African-American in Boston’s history to win a mayoral primary. He was eventually beaten by Raymond Flynn, an Irish-American candidate with many strong ties to South Boston.

In 1970, King created the Community Fellows Program at MIT and served as adjunct professor there for 25 years. After retiring from MIT in 1996, King established the South End Technology Center so that residents who would not normally have access to computers could learn to use them. King also authored a book about his community work entitled “Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development.”

Still alive today, Mel King continues to be active in the community, and his long and arduous journey to secure equal rights for African-Americans and those living in low-income communities has had, and will continue to have, a lasting impact on the city and its residents.