Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech before his assassination 50 years ago this week was read aloud in Boston on Monday by dozens of speakers who took turns reading short passages. The readers were ages 5 to 91 and included former Gov Deval Patrick. King originally delivered the speech in Memphis, Tennessee, on the eve of his April 4, 1968, death. A few hundred people gathered at Boston City Hall in the chilly afternoon air to participate in reading and listening to the address. King’s speeches are as relevant today as they were a half a century ago, Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said.
Patrick, a Democrat who served eight years at the state’s first black governor and was only the second elected black governor in the nation’s history, said King’s words continue to ring true. “It was a prophetic speech at its time, and it’s a prophetic speech now like so much of King’s speeches. They are timeless, poetic and challenging and they spur us to action,” said Patrick, who has said a 2020 run for the White House is on his radar screen.
King had deep ties to Boston, which has had its own struggles along racial lines, including the tumult over the integration of the city’s schools that began in the 1970s. King earned his doctorate in theology at Boston University, met his wife Coretta Scott King in the city, and preached at the Twelfth Baptist Church in the city’s Roxbury neighborhood. He also organized a march from Roxbury, a historically black neighborhood, to Boston Common near the Massachusetts Statehouse in 1965 to call for better housing conditions.
The city plans to build a memorial dedicated to King and his wife. Raymond Flynn, a former Boston mayor and US Ambassador to the Vatican, said he remembers seeing King during two visits to the city, including during the march to Boston Common. “I really admired him for taking a stand of not just a rabble-rouser, not just appealing to the emotions of people, but appealing to the good will of people,” said Flynn, who attended the reading ceremony. “You see so many demagogues today. They’re out there to try to draw up the crowd and get a reaction out of the crowd. Dr. Martin Luther King could be effective and he could be articulate, but at the same time it was meaningful.”
The reading event was organized by the Boston Mountaintop Project. The group’s director, Kevin Peterson, said the speech’s themes of racial and economic inequality make it timeless.