South End Addresses Have Deep Ties to MLK

By Seth Daniel

On Massachusetts Avenue sits a building nearly falling down after years of neglect, but on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it’s a building where MLK and his wife, Coretta, likely spent their first times together.

With that in mind, the South End Historical Society and neighbors in Chester Square hope that the holiday period might bring some much-needed attention on the historic building – which is a National Historic Site.

The League of Women for Community Service building on Chester Square has a very unique history, but it is one that is intimately tied to the courtship of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The Society had hoped that might move state and local officials to dedicate some sort of resources to repairing the blighted property, but so far it has not.

“I haven’t heard a single thing,” said Lauren Prescott, administrator of the Society. “The last update I had was when National Grid showed up at SEHS in April 2017 because they couldn’t get in contact with anyone from the organization and the building was in danger of being cut off from the new gas line that they installed on our street.”

In the 1950s, Boston was a pretty unwelcoming city to women of color who came to study at the various colleges and universities. Many were not able to stay on campus, so buildings such as the Women’s League sprouted up to provide a place for them to live while they studied.

When Coretta won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in the early 1950s, she chose the Women’s League building to live in while she was a student.

The League was more than a home for young black women in Boston, though. The organization hosted meetings, lectures, literary study groups, etc.

Coretta met King while a student at the Conservatory through a mutual friend named Mary Powell. Their first meeting was on the phone and not in person. The relationship seemed to blossom in 1952, and it’s postulated that a young King made many calls to court Coretta at the Women’s League.

By Valentine’s Day in 1953, Coretta and King announced their plans to marry and were married on June 18, 1953 in Alabama.

However, King and Coretta remained in Boston until 1954. King was a doctoral candidate at Boston University and also a minister at the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury. During that time, it is known that he lived in the South End at two addresses, and one address just outside the South End. The addresses were 397 Mass Ave. (only building to have a plaque commemorating King), 170 Saint Botolph St., and 396 Northampton Street #5.

King lists the Northampton address in some of his 1954 letters, so this was likely his first home with Coretta after they married in 1953.

By September 1954, they were done studying and had moved back to Alabama.

With such ties to such a historical figure, the Society hopes that the Women’s League building could be properly restored and remembered for the role it played in such an historic couples beginnings.

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