The Rev. Michael E. Haynes, who rose from Depression-era Roxbury to become a towering figure in Boston’s black community and beyond as the longtime pastor of the historic Twelfth Baptist Church, died on Thursday. He was 92.
The Rev. Haynes was perhaps best known for his friendship with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1950s, when the Rev. Haynes was a youth pastor at Twelfth Baptist and King preached there while pursuing his doctorate at Boston University. Over the years, he would drive King around Boston when he would return to the city, and he helped arrange for King to speak to a joint session of the Massachusetts Legislature in 1965.
But it was through his own work, as a youth counselor, preacher, state representative, and Parole Board member, that the Rev. Haynes made his deepest imprint, shaping and guiding generations of young people struggling to overcome poverty and racial discrimination.
Those he mentored, many through a high school club known as “The Exquisites,” went on to become prominent figures in the church, and in higher education, politics, journalism, and medicine.
“A great and mighty tree has fallen in the city of Boston,” said the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown, associate pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church. “Dr. Haynes was a seminal figure who shaped the history not only of Roxbury and African-Americans in Boston, but the city of Boston. Really, his influence reached throughout the world.”
Those he helped to mold include H. Carl McCall, the chairman emeritus of the State University of New York board, who was 15 when he first met the Rev. Haynes outside of a pool hall on Humboldt Avenue, where McCall was hoping to make a quick buck.
The Rev. Haynes, who was in his early 20s, gave McCall his first job, right there on the spot, as a junior counselor at Breezy Meadows Camp, a summer camp in Holliston for inner-city children where the Rev. Haynes was a counselor and program director.
“He encouraged me and others to pursue education and, for those of us who listened to that, it certainly made a difference in our lives,” said McCall, a Dartmouth College graduate and former New York state comptroller and ambassador to the United Nations. “He pointed out the importance of being socially responsible, but also to have hope, to have faith, that we could overcome whatever obstacles might be in front of us.”
Alfreda J. Harris, 81, a former Boston School Committee member who grew up in Roxbury, was a 9-year-old homesick camper at Breezy Meadows when she met the Rev. Haynes. He urged her not to leave camp, and carried her letters home to the mailbox every day. She went on to return to Breezy Meadows for many summers after that, and eventually became a senior counselor.
“For me and many others, he was a guiding light, particularly for those who were in single-parent households,” Harris said. “He was a great mentor and a caring and loving person and sent many, many of us on to college and to positive lifestyles and professional careers.”
Raymond L. Flynn, the former mayor of Boston, said the Rev. Haynes was able use his many contacts in the civic and sports worlds to help young people get college scholarships.
“He was friendly with everybody,” Flynn said. “He could pick up the phone and call Red Auerbach. He could pick up the phone and call [former NBA star] Dolph Schayes. He had these relationships with everybody in the sports field. He was just an unsung Boston hero, and he never looked for credit.”
Flynn recalled how warmly the Rev. Haynes welcomed him to Twelfth Baptist in the fall of 1983, when Flynn, an Irish-American from South Boston, was running against Mel King, who was making a strong bid to become Boston’s first black mayor.
“He said, ‘Let’s pass a law. You could vote for two guys for mayor,’” Flynn recalled. “The whole church started clapping. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
The Rev. Haynes was born May 9, 1927, and grew up on Haskins Street in Roxbury, the youngest of four sons of Gus and Edna Haynes, immigrants from Barbados.
Gus worked as a garbage collector; Edna as a domestic worker. During the Depression, the Rev. Haynes recalled soaking and re-baking stale bagels that his mother brought home from Jewish families she worked for, wearing clothes donated by the Welfare Department, and picking up grapefruit juice, butter, and cheese from a firehouse on Cabot Street.
“We knew what hunger was in our house for quite a while,” he said in a 2007 interview for Northeastern University’s Lower Roxbury Black History Project. “We knew what it was to be poor. We knew what it was to be cold.”
His mother stressed the importance of education and would threaten her children with the cord on her clothing iron if they didn’t live up to her expectations. “All my mother knew was, ‘Don’t bring home a red mark and don’t make me have to come to the school,’ ” the Rev. Haynes said in 2007.
The Rev. Haynes was born into a musical family and it was church music that led him to become a pastor. His father played the organ, and his brother, Roy Haynes, is a legendary jazz drummer. Haynes graduated from the New England School of Theology in 1949 and from Shelton College in 1950. He joined Twelfth Baptist in 1951 and served as its senior minister for 40 years, from 1964 until his retirement in 2004.
He was a state representative from 1965 to 1969 and a member of the state Parole Board from 1969 to 1985. He was also a friend of the Rev. Billy Graham and served as a member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He was awarded seven honorary degrees, including one from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he was a board member since 1976, and helped establish the seminary’s Boston campus.
The Rev. Haynes’s connection with King made him a living link to a civil rights hero, and he often recalled the awe he felt listening to King hone his oratorical skills at Twelfth Baptist.
“I’m a Roxbury boy, and he was 50 steps ahead of me,’’ the Rev. Haynes told the Globe last year. “I never wanted to be in the pulpit when he was there.’’
When King left Boston in 1954, he urged the Rev. Haynes to join him and his new bride, Coretta Scott King, in Montgomery, Ala. The Rev. Haynes declined, saying Boston was his home.
But the two remained friends. King encouraged the Rev. Haynes to run for a seat in the Massachusetts House in 1964. The following year, the Rev. Haynes, along with two other black lawmakers, Royal Bolling and Frank Holgate, invited King to speak to a joint session of the state Legislature, the first lawmaking body King had addressed.
The Rev. Arthur T. Gerald Jr., who knew the Rev. Haynes for close to 60 years, said the Rev. Haynes introduced him to King when he was about 14 or 15 and encouraged him to become a pastor.
Gerald said he was one of the last people to speak to the Rev. Haynes before he died in his bedroom on Clifford Street in Roxbury on Thursday. The two prayed together, Gerald said. Funeral arrangements are being planned, he said.
“He has touched innumerable lives as a person of God and ministry, as a community leader, and community worker,” Gerald said, adding that the Rev. Haynes always told those who knew him, “don’t forget to give back to the community you came from.”
Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.