Header photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts
MLK Day is approaching and Boston is a special place to celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy. King considered Boston his second home, the city where he met his wife Coretta Scott King and where he earned his Ph.D. in Theology from Boston University while living on Mass Ave. 2022 will be a particularly poignant year to remember Dr. King's relationship with Boston, as this year we will unveil The Embrace on Boston Common, a beautiful memorial to the Kings located in an iconic setting just steps from where the Freedom Trail begins.
King returned to Boston several times in the 1960s to deliver powerful speeches of unity, equality, and perseverance. In March of 1963, just weeks before being jailed in Birmingham, King spoke at Ford Hall and said, “the estrangement of the races in the North can be as devastating as the segregation of the races in the South.” Two years later, a mere month after his march from Selma to Montgomery, King journeyed to Boston and addressed the MA State Legislature before leading the first civil rights march in the Northeast from Roxbury to Boston Common. In a speech on the Common, he decried the “twin evils of housing and employment discrimination.”
Given this rich civic history connecting Dr. King and Boston, it’s fitting that so many of the city’s institutions honor King with free and commemorative events on or around his birthday. The Museum of Fine Arts hosts its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration on Monday, January 17, a day of free admission with access to special exhibitions such as the spectacular art of Roxbury Artist Ekua Holmes, which is on view through January 24.
Also in the Fens, immerse in Dr. King's life and mission with a Day of Service at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on January 17 with excerpts of his speeches inspiring museum-goers to bring home art kits that they can use to develop their own messages of hope. Head to the Gardner's Calderwood Hall to catch a four-part video series on Black American composers who were influenced by spiritual traditions.
MLK Day inspires community dedication to shared goals. Since 2006 Boston Cares has organized A Day ON, Not a Day OFF, to emphasize the tireless spirit that drove Dr. King as he endured decades of threats, imprisonment, and physical abuse – ultimately giving his life – for the forward movement of civil rights in the United States and the realization of a more perfect union.
Community partners in Hyde Park this year are organizing the virtual Racial Equity and Justice Forum with special guest Ryann Richardson participating in a conversation moderated by Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia and Guest Interviewer Tanisha Sullivan, President of the Boston Branch of the NAACP. The forum will invite attendees to discuss the topic of “Taking up space: Mattering and Connecting in Community,” generating a conversation for participants to learn and connect and embrace Community.
Please note that some annual MLK day events have been impacted by the pandemic. The 52nd Annual MLK Memorial Breakfast at the BCEC is now going to be a virtual event. The Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC), which will present its “19th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert: Can You See the Stars?” at Symphony Hall, has rescheduled this event for March 27, 2022 at 4pm. This year's concert will highlight Dr. King's final days as he marched in solidarity with striking sanitation workers in Memphis.
If one imagines King’s life as a tapestry, Boston ties together some important threads. For this reason, it is appropriate and imperative that civic leaders, activists, and philanthropists in Boston have come together to imagine spaces in the city to memorialize Dr. King’s life and to continue his mission. In time, these spaces will coalesce to reflect a physical bookend of King’s famous march through Boston in 1965, with a Center for Economic Justice constructed in Roxbury, and a poignant and provocative King memorial residing on Boston Common. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau is invested in these outcomes and has made King Boston the charitable partner of two Dine Out Boston programs. Ultimately, memorials and monuments are significant reminders of those movements, epochs, and individuals that we, as the American people, choose to uplift because they uplifted us; they represent so much more than specious symbols of the American past. This is a vital and ongoing conversation in America, and Boston, in 2020. Dr. King considered engaging in the conversation our primary civic endowment and obligation.