Social activist Mel King visits the Hill
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 08:10
Mel King, senior lecturer emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former candidate for Boston mayor, last night presented a lecture in the Alumnae Lounge, documenting the observations he has made during his lengthy career as a social activist in the area.
King, a lifelong resident of Boston’s South End, spoke on the many instances in his life in which he has had to combat racism and discrimination. One of the earliest cases of segregation that he experienced occurred within the Church of All Nations, where he worshipped as a child from the 1930s onwards.
“Something was wrong with this picture,” King said. “It was divided into black and white. In later years, we participated in bringing this church back together.”
King described numerous cases of this nature that gave rise to his support of the early African-American Civil Rights Movement.
“I admire the self-definition of Rosa Parks,” he said. “She said to herself, ‘If I give up my seat on this bus, it’s because I’m less than who I know I am.’ It was a big, big moment as to how I would define myself from there on.”
King stressed the absolute need for activist organizations to build their own identity for themselves rather than let those from the outside do it for them.
“There’s a saying, ‘If they can name you, they can claim you,’” he said. “So I told myself, ‘don’t let anybody name me.’ No change can come to any movement or group until they can assert that they are deserving and have a right.”
King acknowledged the progress that has been made against segregation and discrimination in his lifetime but believes that society is plagued by the fact that certain groups are denied the privileges and opportunities that are so readily available to others in the same environment.
“Lurking still in our culture is the fact that we value some groups less than others,” he said. “Romney called this group the 47 percent, the Occupiers called it the 99 percent. But isn’t dividing groups like that denying folks the critical privilege of being able to say for themselves what’s in their own interests?”
As a longtime educator, King pointed to the school system in Boston, in which people of different races and social standings often lose out disproportionately to others.
He suggested combating this disparity by making the record of achievement of each classroom available to the public, so that parents can know that they are sending their children to a school where they will receive a valuable education.
“On you, on all of us, is the importance of taking and developing approaches which show and create a new and informed unity,” he said. “We have to believe that we can change.”
Several members of the audience said that King’s speech resonated with them.
“I like that he left a lot of room for questions and incorporated a lot of his personal experience and anecdotes in his speech,” junior Billy Rutherford said. “It definitely made it a lot more personable.”
“Seeing Mel King is like seeing living history,” senior lecturer of education Steven Cohen, who brought a number of his students to the event, said. “If you’ve been living in Boston long enough, you’ll know that the history of this city, particularly in the second half of the 20th century, really cannot be written without Mel King.”