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Martin Luther King Jr. studied, preached, fell in love, demonstrated in Boston

1/20/2014, 6 a.m.

Martin Luther King Jr. first came to Boston in 1951 to study at Boston University’s School of Theology. He received a doctoral degree in systematic theology in 1955.

King lived at 397 Massachusetts Avenue with a former classmate from Atlanta’s Morehouse College. Their apartment became the meeting place for the Philosophical Club, a group of black students they organized to discuss the issues of the day.

The same year King arrived in Boston, his future wife Coretta Scott came here to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. In early 1952, the two met. A romance blossomed and in June 1953, they were married in Heilberger, Ala.

After their wedding, the Kings returned to their studies in Boston and made their new home in a four-room apartment near the Conservatory.

At Boston University, King studied philosophy and theology under Edgar S. Brightman and L. Harold DeWolf, two leading advocates of personal idealism. Through this philosophy, King strengthened his idea of a personal God and formed his belief in the dignity and worth of all human personality.

During his student years at Boston University, the historic Twelfth Baptist Church (now on Warren Street in Roxbury) was an important part of King’s life. He worshipped, taught religious classes and preached Sunday morning sermons at the church.

By the winter of 1954, King began thinking about beginning his ministry. He was offered and took a job at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.

In June 1954, Coretta Scott King finished her studies at the Conservatory. The couple closed up their Boston apartment and went south.

The Boston years had sharpened King’s gift as a religious thinker and leader. When he was needed, King returned to the city.

Among the most important things King did for Boston were to lead a massive demonstration in April 1965, and to solidify the fight against racism in the Boston Public Schools.

The years 1964 to 1965 saw debate over de facto segregation in the Boston Public Schools. Black parents called for the closing of the inadequate Boardman School in 1964. That same year, parents and their supporters boycotted the schools in a protest over segregation and set up the Freedom Schools. King came to Boston to give his support.

He returned in 1965 for a second boycott as the struggle with the Boston School Committee over inadequate and segregated schools. King tried to visit the Boardman School but was turned away by school officials.

When King left Boston in 1954 after finishing his theological studies at Boston University, he was a young minister known by a small circle of friends and admirers. But when he returned to Boston in 1965 to support blacks in their struggle to desegregate the schools, he was an internationally known personality, having won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent black struggle for civil rights.

The hallmark of the visit was King’s April 22 speech delivered to a joint convention of the two houses of the general Court of Massachusetts at the State House. This was his first speech before any state legislature in the country.