‘We Are Because He Was': Mel King, Civil Rights Icon and 1983 Boston Mayoral Candidate, Dies at 94

Leaders in Boston and Massachusetts are remembering him after his death

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Civil rights icon Mel King, the first Black person to reach a general election in a Boston mayor's race, has died at the age of 94, his wife, Joyce, told The Boston Globe.

King, who represented Boston's South End in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, lost to Ray Flynn in the 1983 mayoral election. But his impact goes well beyond that. He played a key role in building race relations in a divided Boston, advocated for the underserved, and served as a mentor to future leaders.



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Aside from his political career, he was also a director of the New Urban League of Greater Boston and taught in MIT's Department of Urban Studies.

Joyce King told the Globe her husband had been ill in recent months and had briefly been hospitalized at Boston Medical Center, but that he said three days ago he wanted to return home.

"We knew that it was close," she told the newspaper.

Michael Curry, a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors, spoke to NBC10 Boston on Wednesday morning.

"Born and raised in Roxbury, a kid in a housing project, it was Mel King that advocated for communities, for residents, for people who were marginalized and socially vulnerable like myself, like the family I was raised in," he said. "So it's deeply personal for me."

Boston civil rights icon Mel King died on Tuesday in his South End home at the age of 94, and tributes are pouring in.

Curry said King's mayoral run in 1983 was one of his key accomplishments, even though he didn't win.

"That 1983 run made us realize the potential of this 'City on a Hill.' That Black residents could serve as mayor. Although his campaign was unsuccessful and he lost to Mayor Flynn, he made the possible visible to all of us. He showed us a campaign run by an African American can draw in residents of all races and backgrounds and be viable. I think that led to the campaigns of Ayanna Pressley and the many others who followed suit -- even Mayor Wu. That is why by far of his legacy -- workforce development, housing , education -- his campaign for mayor has an indelible imprint on the city of Boston and on me as a young activist."

Curry said he hopes the city will come together to celebrate the imprint he has had on Boston.

"This man had an indelible mark on the City of Boston," he said, "and we are because he was."

"People like that come around only once in a lifetime," Flynn told NBC10 Boston on Wednesday. "It really is tough to see him go because he meant so much to me, he meant so much to my family, he meant so much to the city."

Reactions from public officials flowed in swiftly Tuesday night.

"For decades, Mel King taught us all how to serve, how to build, and how to love," Mayor Michelle Wu wrote in a statement. "On behalf of the City of Boston, we send our deepest condolences to the King family and the many, many loved ones, mentees, and friends of Mel."

"Mel King has passed & is no longer with us in physical form, but his work & legacy endures in every corner of this city. I was so lucky to learn from him & his vision. What a legacy," Boston City Councilor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune wrote on Twitter.

Gov. Maura Healey ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at all state buildings and issued the following statement:

"Mel King’s work and legacy reverberate throughout Boston and well beyond the borders of Massachusetts. This loss will be felt just as widely. A dedicated public servant and civil rights champion, he stepped up to challenges that few could imagine taking on, brought people together, and never stopped advocating for racial justice. I urge all Massachusetts residents to join me in honoring his life and contributions, holding his loved ones in our hearts, continuing his work toward equity and justice.” 

"A trailblazing civil rights icon and a blessing to our city," former Mayor Marty Walsh said.

"With the passing of Mel King, we have lost a trailblazer in all of its forms: civil rights leader, grassroots organizer, educator, writer, legislator," Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, wrote in a statement. "He was my friend and one of the smartest men I have ever known. Mel King was an inspiration to me and countless others who sought and fought for a more just future."

PHOTOS: Boston Civil Rights Icon Mel King Through the Years

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