We’ve all been to the Boston Common. Whether it was for Pride, to spend time with friends at Frog Pond or to participate in a march or a protest, Boston Common is a landmark for everyone who has visited or lives in Boston. You’ve seen the Brewer Fountain and you’ve seen the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. You know of the Frog statue and the Boston Massacre Memorial. But did you know that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech on the Common? You’ve probably also heard the city referred to as “historic Boston,” but did you know that it was King’s second home? It was in Boston that King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, got a great deal of their work done.
King Boston is a privately-funded nonprofit working with the city to create a memorial of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. The nonprofit wishes to honor the Kings and their work together in Boston as it is not widely recognized. According to King Boston’s website, the memorial will be placed on Boston Common where King delivered a speech on segregation in 1965.
Not many are aware of the important work the Kings did in Boston. In his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” delivered on Feb. 4, 196 in Alabama, King expressed his hope that his legacy would continue on as a call to action, driving more people to pursue justice. King attended Boston University in 1951 and met Coretta Scott King in 1952 as she attended the New England Conservatory of Music for graduate school.
Christina Demard, a 17-year-old senior at Boston Latin Academy, said she did not know of the Kings’ influence in Boston throughout her 17 years of living in the city. “I did not know they did anything here,” she said. “I didn’t even know they came up here — I thought all their influence was in the South.”
Demard is not alone. I first heard about King Boston’s initiative after taking part in Twelfth Baptist Church’s annual MLK Convocation where Marie St. Fleur, executive director of King Boston, spoke about the plan and its importance.
“It is most definitely a good idea,” Demard said. “It will be eye-catching and forces people to pay attention. It will push people to acknowledge what they have done.”
Na’tisha Mills, an associate at King Boston, said the initiative was established about three years ago. Paul English, who is the founder of King Boston, was on his way back from Chicago where he had seen a memorial there that honored Martin Luther King Jr.
“So on his way back, he started talking with multiple leaders in the Boston area, and decided that he wanted to create a memorial that would honor the history of MLK,” she explained. “In a conversation with a lot of community members, they said they wanted to do more than just bring a memorial to the city. They wanted to do something that could actually be a call to action; it could further the work of the Kings and the work for economic justice. That’s when the idea for the King Center was brought up.”
The current initiative is a two-piece living memorial: a monument that will be on Boston Common and programming at the Center of Economic Justice in Roxbury.
Funds for both the memorial and the Center of Economic Justice — about $12 million — are now being raised. The center will be located in the reopened Boston Public Library branch in Nubian Square. A lot of funds have come from community members who play a large role in this process and its talks.
When talking about memorials, it’s always a question about what they mean and what the importance of any sort of monument or memorial is.
“As a history teacher, I think monuments are a way to remember people and moments throughout history and I think they matter as kind of a reminder of our collective history and what that means to us locally, what that means to us on a statewide level, on a national level and even on a global level,” Anthony Mathieu, a history teacher at Boston Latin Academy said. “I think those who control history will remember those who either share a common identity or background with the writers of history or we strive to idolize people who represent our ideals.”
The King Boston Initiative is something that will hopefully serve to shed light on the history and the work of the Kings during their time in Boston, a history that isn’t known or learned by most residents of this city. The memorial and the Center of Economic Justice are both resources that will serve the Black community and the greater community of Boston as a whole.
As Mills put it, “I think our biggest hope is that we are bringing community members that are most affected by many of the economic disparities in Boston, together with the providers, together with the servers and the policymakers to advance a mutual economic justice agenda.”
“And what that means,” she said, “is that we are giving those that are most affected by these disadvantages the opportunity to lead the strategy around what is best going to work for them, around what they need to succeed, to thrive, to live happy healthy lives in Boston.”