Metro

Yvonne Abraham

DeLeo to look into ‘proper honoring’ of MLK in Mass.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the crowd on Boston Common after a march from Roxbury in 1965.

AP File Photo

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the crowd on Boston Common after a march from Roxbury in 1965.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Tuesday he will form a commission to work on how best to give Martin Luther King Jr. a fitting memorial in Massachusetts.

“We’re going to look into a proper honoring of Martin Luther King Jr. and everything he stood for,” DeLeo said.

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DeLeo was reacting to Sunday’s Globe column calling for a memorial to King in a prominent location. King lived in Boston in the early 1950s, as he studied for his doctorate in theology at Boston University. He also preached at Twelfth Baptist Church, in the South End at that time. There he met his wife, Coretta Scott, then a student at the New England Conservatory of Music.

“We sometimes forget . . . about the connection that Dr King had with Massachusetts,” DeLeo said. “This was someone who was very much involved in the fabric of our state.”

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King returned to Boston over the years and led a massive civil rights march from the South End to the Boston Common in April 1965. He spoke out against racism and segregation at schools in Roxbury and before the state Legislature and before a crowd of 22,000 on the Common.

“The vision of the new Boston must extend into the heart of Roxbury,” he said, standing beneath an umbrella in a cold drizzle. “Boston must become a testing ground for the ideals of freedom.”

Though there is an abstract sculpture honoring King in Marsh Plaza at BU, and a street and a housing development that bear his name, there is no more prominent tribute to him, no place where residents and visitors can gather to celebrate his life and ideals.

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“I think it’s time, I think it’s overdue, and we’re going to get right on it,” said DeLeo, who will take the first steps toward establishing the commission this week. “I’m confident that my colleagues here in the Legislature and the governor and others will feel the same way.”

That is welcome news to Charles Yancey, the former city councilor who has pushed for a King statue for years. He wanted the King memorial to be close to City Hall, so that everybody who walked into the building would be “reminded of the principles Dr. King lived and died for, because we find all too often in city government only a begrudging acknowledgment of the need to focus on the issue of racial equality.”

Yancey was at Twelfth Baptist in 2008, when Mayor Tom Menino promised, with King’s oldest son at his side, to “build a statue to Dr. King and Coretta right here in our city.” But the late mayor’s efforts yielded the same results as Yancey’s many attempts over the years; the tribute Menino had promised fell victim to the recession and lost momentum.

Yancey noted that the city nonetheless has managed to erect other memorials — notably the one to Celtic Bill Russell, a tribute to the sports star and activist unveiled a few years ago by City Hall.

“I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Bill Russell, but he’s not in the same league with Dr. King,” Yancey said.

But the former councilor was cheered by the speaker’s enthusiasm.

“I would encourage him to do it, and I would encourage the governor,” he said. “They are good people of good will, and they all say the right thing. Let’s put a memorial at a site where the state Legislature can be reminded of Dr. King every day.”

Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com.
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