King memorial needed in Boston – urgently

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to a crowd of more than 20,000 people from the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common on April 23, 1965. AP photo

A campaign to create a permanent, public monument in Boston to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. appears to be gaining momentum. A committee led by business leader Paul English and Rev. Liz Walker and backed by the Walsh administration intends to raise $5 million to create and site the memorial somewhere inside the city, where Dr. King studied theology and met his future wife, Coretta Scott, in the 1950s. They hope to have it ready within two years.

An earlier attempt to place a public memorial honoring King in Boston ended quietly and unsuccessfully in the 1990s. That effort— initiated by City Councillor Charles Yancey during the Menino administration— envisioned a statue on City Hall Plaza. But it was hampered by funding issues, and, candidly, it fizzled due to a lack of organization and support.

This time the effort seems to be far more likely to succeed. Paul English has “put his money where his mouth is,” Rev. Walker said in an interview on WGBH-TV this week, referencing a $1million commitment from the founder of the travel website

With the aide of the Walsh team, the committee has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from artists— who have been asked to submit design ideas by Feb. 28. A copy of the RFQ and more details can be reviewed on the website English says that a committee will winnow the field of potential artists down to five in May with the goal of announcing the chosen one in November.

It is not yet clear where the memorial will be located. In the spring of 1965, King delivered two key speeches in Boston. The first, on April 22, was inside the House chamber at the State House to a joint session of the Legislature, the second the next day after a march that King led to the Boston Common. That speech, in front of 22,000 people— including Reporter co-founder Ed Forry, who skipped class at Boston College to march and hear the civil rights champion— was delivered from the Parkman Bandstand.

King attended Boston University, which unveiled a sculpture dedicated to him outside the Marsh Chapel on Commonwealth Avenue in 1975. A Boston public school—the K-8 King School on Lawrence Avenue in Dorchester— honors Dr. King, as does the boulevard bearing his name in Roxbury.

The MLKBoston committee chairs say they plan to convene community meetings throughout the neighborhoods to “solicit input” on the project. To date, meetings have been held in Roxbury and City Hall, with the next scheduled event planned for Feb. 15 at the Copley branch of the BPL.

We hope to see this worthwhile effort extended to our neighborhoods next. Mattapan and Dorchester — and indeed other neighborhoods outside of the city center—should also be weighed as potential sites for the memorial to Dr. and Mrs. King.

As English explained during an interview on WGBH this week, he was inspired to renew the Boston memorial effort in the depths of his own depression following the 2016 presidential election. The rejection of Dr. King’s ideals as expressed in that election cycle mirror the resistance that has accompanied this fractured nation’s posture toward his legacy from the moment that a white supremacist assassin struck him down in 1968.

For decades, certain states in our union chose to either ignore the national holiday— made federal in 1983— or to heap insult on its mission by pairing King’s tribute with those of their Confederate “heroes.”

While Massachusetts embraced the King holiday early on, Bostonians can take no pride in the molasses-like movement to erect a permanent monument to a man— and a couple— so linked to our city. It’s well past time to make this happen. We applaud Paul English, Rev. Walker, and their compatriots for their work and encourage them to extend their effort into our neighborhoods.