Remembering Mel King

By Howie Hawkins
April 4, 2023

Mel King died this week on March 28, 2023 at age 94. Here are a few obituaries that will give you
some idea of the scope of his activism and his impact: WBUR, Boston Globe, NY Times.
I want add here a personal remembrance that focuses on his impact on the Green Party.
I first met Mel King in the late 1970s in connection with the anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid
movements. He extended to me, as he did to all activists, an invitation to stop by his house in Boston’s
South End where he hosted a brunch and discussion for activists on most Sundays. I was living in
Vermont but was able to stop by a few times over the years. There I encountered other activists with
whom I have worked over the years.

One of them was Bill Fletcher Jr. Mel introduced him to me simply as Bill Fletcher as if he was
someone I would already know by reputation. I actually didn’t know Bill at all. At the time Bill was a
welder and organizing Black workers in Boston. He would go on to be a leader of socialist and Black
radical organizations, a staffer for unions and the national AFL-CIO, and president of TransAfrica.
When I was running for president, Bill was the co-author of articles and open letters arguing against my
Green presidential campaign and for critically supporting Biden in order to defeat Trump and his far-
right movement. Of course, I did not agree and wrote responses. In the last year, however, we have
worked together to organize the Ukraine Solidarity Network (US).

The relevance of this story to Mel King is that the most important lesson I have taken from Mel’s many
public talks and private conversations was his emphasis on respecting and never burning bridges to
people with whom you disagree, both people in the movements as well as the general public. He would
always say things like, “If we don’t believe we can persuade people, how do we think we are going to
build a majority movement to transform society”? That approach, which Mel King embodied, is why I
think he had such respect in Boston, both across the progressive movements and from the general
public and even his political adversaries in Boston and Massachusetts politics.

A piece of history Mel made that I think has been not been appreciated is his role in promoting the idea
of the Rainbow Coalition as a movement that unites people across race and gender. When he was
breaking with the Democratic Party with whom he had been elected to the state legislature in 1973 and
was building his campaign for mayor of Boston in 1983, he called his campaign the Rainbow Coalition,
reviving the concept of the original Rainbow Coalition organized in 1969 by Fred Hampton and the
Chicago Black Panther Party. The next year, I saw Jesse Jackson’s first presidential campaign come
through Vermont and New Hampshire as simply the Jesse Jackson campaign. The next stop was Boston
where Mel King hosted a campaign event. The Jackson campaign came out of Boston calling itself the
Rainbow Coalition.

After the 1988 campaign, Jesse Jackson folded the Rainbow Coalition, which had become an ongoing
organization between his 1984 and 1988 campaigns, into his PUSH organization. But the
Massachusetts Rainbow Coalition did not fold and in 1997 became the Rainbow Coalition Party. In
2002, it merged with the Green Party to form the Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party that we have

Mel was one of the featured speakers at the first open national conference of the Green Party
movement held in Amherst, Massachusetts in July 1987 that was attended by some 1,500 people. Here
is a short account of that event.

I learned practical things from Mel as well. I was honored to have his active support for some of my
campaigns. In 1995, he drove the 6 or 7 hours from Boston to Syracuse on his own dime to speak at an
event in support of my campaign for mayor. I remember that when we went to a dollar store to get
some things our campaign headquarter needed, I just paid at checkout as an anonymous customer. It
was Mel who told the clerk that I was the Green candidate for mayor and needed her vote. Mel told me
afterward to not be shy and tell everyone I encountered I was running. He was right.
Mel King was and remains an inspiration.

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April 4, 2023

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