Community leader Mel King donates papers to the Archives at UMass Boston

The Africana Studies Department and the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston are pleased to announce the recent acquisition of the Melvin H. King papers, which will be preserved and made publicly available for research by the University Archives and Special Collections Department.

Black and white photograph showing crowd of people on a stage, including Mel King, his daughter Pamela, and his wife Joyce

Mel King (center, with fist raised), with his wife Joyce (to his left) and his daughter Pamela (to his right) on the evening of the Boston mayoral primary in 1983, which King won by 98 votes. October 11, 1983. Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries.

Born in 1928 in Boston’s South End neighborhood to immigrants from Guyana and Barbados, Mel King has had a long and significant career as a political activist and community organizer. He graduated from Boston Technical High School in 1946 and earned a B.S. in mathematics from Claflin College in 1950 and an M.A. in education from Boston State College in 1951. King served as the Director of Boys’ Work at Lincoln House, a settlement house in the South End, and as the Director of the New Urban League of Greater

Boston. In 1968, he organized a “Tent City” demonstration in protest of a planned parking garage in the South End. Twenty years later, in 1988, a housing complex was built on that site and dedicated as Tent City. The Archives in the Healey Library holds the records of the Tent City Corporation, as well as other additional papers related to King’s work and activism.

Image of a flyer for Melvin H. King's campaign for Boston School Committee in 1964 and 1965

Front of flyer for King’s 1964-1965 election campaign for the Boston School Committee (click image for PDF of flyer)

King worked as an Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies at MIT for twenty-five years, where he founded and served as the Director of the Community Fellows Program in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He published a book, Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development, through the South End Press in 1981. King has received honorary doctoral degrees from New England School of Law, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Boston Architectural College, and University of Massachusetts Boston.

King ran for election to the Boston School Committee in 1961, 1963, and 1965, and served as a State Representative in Massachusetts from 1973-1982. In 1983 he was the first Black mayoral candidate in the City of Boston to make it to the General Election. He founded the Rainbow Coalition Party in Massachusetts, which merged with the Massachusetts Green Party to become the Green-Rainbow Party in 2002.

On behalf of the King family, Rep. King’s daughter, Pamela, said: “Melvin H. King, Sr., Joyce King, and family are pleased to donate the papers and works of Melvin H. King, Community Leader, former State Representative and author to the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Healey Library Archive. Mel received his Masters in Mathematics from Boston State Teacher’s College which was incorporated into the UMass Boston system. He also received an Honorary Doctorate at the recommendation of former Chancellor Keith Motley who had requested to have Mr. King’s papers be placed in the archives at the university. We thank the Africana Studies Department and Professor Jemadari Kamara for assisting with the donation and Andrew Elder of the Archives Department for making the transition of materials to the library. We hope the students, faculty and staff will utilize the collection and add to the growing links in the Chain of Change.”

Image of flyer for Mel King's reelection campaign for State Representative

Front of flyer for King’s 1974 reelection campaign for Massachusetts State Representative (click image for PDF of flyer)

“Given UMass Boston’s deep commitment to anti-racism, community engagement and social justice, we are honored to serve as the research home of the Mel King papers,” said Interim Dean of Libraries Joanne Riley. “On behalf of the Healey Library, I would like to express our gratitude to Representative King for donating these materials documenting his phenomenal work and influence, and to his family for helping us organize the smooth transfer of 80 cartons to campus. We are excited about working with faculty and students from Africana Studies and from across campus to prepare the collection to be publicly available for research.”

The Melvin H. King papers comprise 80 boxes of original archival materials documenting King’s lifetime of work as a Boston-based organizer, politician, activist, and educator. Topics include restorative justice, housing, education, agriculture and urban farming, advocacy for formerly incarcerated people, and computer literacy training. Among the materials in the collection are articles, audiovisual materials, books, correspondence, journals and notebooks, magazines, newspapers and newsletters, pamphlets and flyers, photographs and slides, poetry, reports, speeches and campaign materials, and various ephemera. Additional materials related specifically to King’s mayoral campaign in the early 1980s are housed in the Archives at Roxbury Community College.

This acquisition was made possible by Dr. Jemadari Kamara and Dr. Tony Van Der Meer in UMass Boston’s Africana Studies Department.

Color photograph shows King giving a speech in front the Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Boston mayoral candidate Mel King speaking at a rally in Copley Square in October 1983.

For more information about the Melvin H. King papers, including updates on when the collection will be available for research, please visit or contact

University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit

Standing Our Ground and Transforming a City: Event and collecting area document history of housing and community activism in Boston

University Archives and Special Collections in the Healey Library at UMass Boston is publishing the below essay, written by Judy Branfman around 1989, to both announce the launch of new digital collection area and to promote Transforming a City: Honoring Boston’s Visionaries, an event being held on Saturday, October 19, that will bring people together from all over Boston to celebrate the lives and legacy of community activists Mel King and Chuck Turner.

Screenshot from the title screen for the Standing Our Ground slideshow

View the “Standing Our Ground” slideshow, narrative, and transcription.


The new digital collection area is inspired by (and named after) Standing Our Ground, the important slideshow that was directed by filmmaker Judy Branfman and produced by Branfman and UMass Boston Professor Emerita Marie Kennedy to explore Boston’s rich and creative history of neighborhood struggles over land control and development, and the growth of empowerment and local control. The only item in the collection at this point is the Standing Our Ground film, but we expect to post more materials to the site soon, including interviews, videos of public meetings, and other recordings from the 1970s and 1980s related to Tent City activism in Boston’s South End. Explore this digital collection area and view Standing Our Ground.

University Archives and Special Collections holds a range of materials that help to document the history of housing, community development, and land use and planning activism in Boston. This digital collection will provide researchers and community members with access to unique archival materials related to this history.

Standing Our Ground: Community Media and the History of Neighborhood Control of Development in Boston

Guest essay by Judy Branfman
Note: This essay about Standing Our Ground and Branfman’s work with the Coalition for Community Control of Development was originally written around 1989.

“You’ve got to fight or you don’t get anywhere. If you fight for something you believe is right, then fight for it! Don’t sit back and say, ‘Oh, I could have done it, but now it’s too late.’ You gotta do it. You can win or you can lose, but at least you tried.”
-Anna DeFronzo, East Boston community activist

Screenshot from the title screen for the Standing Our Ground slideshow

View the “Standing Our Ground” slideshow, narrative, and transcription.

For thousands of Boston residents – especially East Boston residents – Anna DeFronzo’s fighting spirit and history of activism have been an inspiration since the early 1960s (Anna DeFronzo died in 1998). At the same time that Anna and her neighbors were struggling to stop Logan Airport’s expansion into their East Boston neighborhoods, similar struggles were taking place in other parts of Boston, particularly where Urban Renewal plans were taking a heavy toll. In those areas as well, particularly the South End area, committed activists and creative struggles evolved and broke new ground for people in communities seeking to have some control in shaping their lives and surroundings.

The same issues that in the 1960s and ‘70s brought whole communities into the streets and meeting rooms – demolition of neighborhoods and destruction of communities, racism, the pursuit of community-based development, etc. – have continued, often in more sophisticated forms, to be crucial and largely unresolved issues for Boston residents. But through the years, activists from Boston’s many and extremely diverse neighborhoods have built on each other’s work. And over the last couple of years neighborhood activists and groups have begun to come together to share their knowledge and struggles – and attempt to develop strategies for working together on common issues. The Coalition for Community Control of Development (CCCD) is one outcome of this coming together – a growing coalition of over 25 neighborhood organizations from across the city. CCCD is working on both legislative and grassroots initiatives in order to strengthen the voices of Boston’s neighborhoods.

I became involved with CCCD in 1988 because of my interest in working with that broad coalition working to address community development issues. My experience working in the neighborhood group in my isolated and gentrifying area taught me that we could never fully accomplish our goals working on our own in deeply divided and politicized Boston. Also as an activist artist and educator, I had a strong interest in developing some kind of artistic collaboration that could further the community control work.

What emerged after several discussions was the idea of developing a slide show that would look at the past and present of the struggle for community control of development, drawing on the voices and stories of activists who had helped shape those struggles.

The project in part emerged out of – and merged with – a series of neighborhood oral histories being collected by Rainbow Coalition members and urban planner Marie Kennedy for a large historical exhibition honoring South End activist Mel King on his 60th birthday. The slide show process began with a letter that was sent out to more than 500 neighborhood groups and activists inviting their participation – and to date has involved artists with a variety of skills, planners, historians, educators, activists, and donations of numerous services.

Visual images are powerful and evocative tools, although they are often left behind by organizers and educators, often for understandable reasons. In the case of “Standing Our Ground,” the real strength, along with the organizing process itself, lies in the images combined with stories heard in the activists’ own voices.

The goals of the project have been: to develop a process, educational in itself, which would bring people together to share their stories (15 voices are heard in the show) and participate in developing the slide show; to pass on a history that in reality is little known – and that can be seen within the context of growing community empowerment; and to develop an educational program that raises relevant questions for use by CCCD and other groups and institutions. Another hope was to try and place land control struggles – and the idea of community development – within the realm of people’s everyday experience, and try and look at the relationship between the two.

As Chuck Turner, Director of the Center for Community Action in Roxbury, says in “Standing Our Ground,” “The question is, how does community development enhance human development? Does the building of a new structure necessarily contribute to people’s feeling a renewed confidence in their own ability and creative potential and future in their neighborhood?”

Note: This essay about Standing Our Ground and Branfman’s work with the Coalition for Community Control of Development was originally written around 1989.


Image of Mel King and Chuck Turner, used for eventLearn more about Transforming a City: Honoring Boston’s Visionaries, an event being held on Saturday, October 19, that will bring people together from all over Boston to celebrate the lives and legacy of Mel King and Chuck Turner. Reserve tickets here.

About Judy Branfman

Judy Branfman, Research Affiliate with the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, is a documentary filmmaker, activist, and independent scholar based in Los Angeles. She is working on a documentary, The Land of Orange Groves & Jails, and book on the precedent-setting court case, Stromberg v California. Since 1980 Judy has worked with non-profit organizations, cultural projects, labor unions, and municipalities doing outreach and education, media, and project development and coordination. She has taught Los Angeles history courses at UCLA – and produced large community-based events focusing on LA’s multi-ethnic, labor history.

University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives and Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives and Special Collections, click here or email