A scene from the 2022 Many Helping Hands community walk.

Community walk for Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates history of city visited by MLK himself

Above image: A scene from the 2022 Many Helping Hands community walk. (Photo: Many Helping Hands 365)

By Beth Folsom, 2023

More than 2,000 people crowded into Cambridge’s First Baptist Church in January 1960 to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. Delivering a sermon in the form of an imaginary letter from St. Paul to America, Dr. King emphasized the importance of racial and denominational unity within the Christian church, as well as the urgency of the continued use of nonviolent methods in the fight against racial injustice.

King was a frequent visitor to Cambridge in the 1950s and early 1960s, most notably during his time as a doctoral student at Boston University. King took philosophy courses at Harvard in 1952 and 1953, and was a guest preacher at Harvard’s Memorial Church in 1959 and 1960. He delivered a lecture titled “The Future of Integration” at Harvard Law School in 1962 and spoke at Memorial Church and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School on the same day in January 1965.

For the second year, Many Helping Hands 365 will join with community partners in leading a community walk to highlight the history and present of Cambridge’s Black and Brown community in The Coast, Riverside and Cambridgeport neighborhoods. On Monday, community members, residents and teen volunteers will gather at Starlight Square, 84 Bishop Allen Drive, Central Square, to reflect on how King might respond to the current events, challenges and success of the neighborhoods. History Cambridge is proud to partner with MHH365 and other local historical and nonprofit organizations to share the rich and diverse history of the city.

Following this brief program, participants are invited to join in a walk through these neighborhoods to explore the many ways in which Bipoc Cantabrigians have enriched the city’s history. The walk will include four “anchor” historical destinations: Central Square Church (where King spoke in 1960), the Cambridge Community Center, Pentecostal Tabernacle Church and St. Augustine’s Church, as well as significant art installations, recreational sites and Black-owned businesses that tell the story of the neighborhood’s rich history.

The community walk is part of the MLK Day of Service and Learning, which provides the Cambridge community with opportunities to explore issues of racial and social justice in their city and beyond. Pre-registered participants will volunteer on MLK Day at one of three Central Square locations (Cambridge City Hall, YWCA Cambridge and Cambridge’s Senior Center) to “lend a helping hand” to neighbors in need. Volunteers will make fleece blankets and scarves for unhoused children, teens and adults in Cambridge and Somerville, and Valentine cards for isolated elders, veterans and military personnel. During the coming week, volunteers will run neighborhood and workplace food, book and clothing collection drives for local nonprofits. All are welcome for the presentation at Starlight Square and the community walk; due to ongoing COVID concerns, pre-registration is required for the service projects taking place in Central Square.

Information about the walk and the Cambridge Day of Service is available at the Many Helping Hands 365 website.

Beth Folsom is programs manager for History Cambridge.

This article was originally published in our “Did You Know?” column in Cambridge Day.