The ‘conscience of Boston’

Rev. Michael Haynes, Roxbury icon, MLK colleague and contemporary, dies at 92

The ‘conscience of Boston’

Rev. Michael Haynes and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

WHEN MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. led a march from Roxbury to Boston Common in 1965 to protest school segregation in the city, his deepest connection here was a young Roxbury minister named Michael Haynes. 

They met not long after King arrived from Atlanta to pursue at doctorate at Boston University in 1951. King delivered guest sermons at Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church, where Haynes, a 24-year-old seminary student was serving as youth minister, and they became colleagues and friends. By 1965, Haynes was the pastor of Twelfth Baptist. He had also just been elected a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and, together with two black legislative colleagues, co-sponsored a measure inviting King to address a joint session of the Legislature, a speech he delivered the day before the march to the Common.

“The place was packed. There wasn’t standing room in the hall,” Haynes, who delivered the invocation before King spoke, told WBUR in 2012. “A lot of legislators brought their whole families.” 

Haynes, the son of Barbadian immigrants who served for 40 years as the pastor at Twelfth Baptist, died Thursday at age 92. 

With his passing, Boston lost one of its last close ties to King and to the broader civil rights movement he led. Through Haynes, “you knew you had linkage to the national scene,” said Mel King, the veteran Boston activist who was the first black candidate to make it to a mayoral final election, in 1983. “We felt privileged to have been that close to him, knowing he was that close to Dr. King.” 

But Haynes’s impact was felt most profoundly at home in Boston, where he was born and for decades stood as the preeminent civic connector who bound together the city’s black community, while serving a pivotal role in the broader crosscurrents of life in Boston and beyond.

“He was really the heart and soul and conscience of Boston,” said former mayor Ray Flynn, who first met Haynes through youth sports in the late 1950s.

“He was the griot of Roxbury,” said Rev. Jeffrey Brown, an associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist. “He was the keeper of its history, of its culture. He really was, for the city, one of those beacon lights and historical figures.” 

His wisdom was such that Christopher Lydon, the longtime Boston journalist, radio host, and somewhat improbable member of the Twelfth Baptist Church choir, said two years ago on his radio show, “It’s more than 50 years now that I’ve been enrolled in the University of Michael Haynes.” In 2009, as part of a video tribute when the University of Massachusetts Boston named a distinguished professorship in urban studies in the clergyman’s honor, Lydon said, “Michael Haynes is, for me, the greatest man in Boston.” 

In 1986, when a group of black activists in Boston put a non-binding question on the ballot asking voters in Roxbury in surrounding predominantly African-American precincts whether they favored seceding from the city and forming a separate municipality — to be known as Mandela — Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, a veteran black political strategist, took charge of the campaign to defeat the proposal. She made a quick beeline to the Twelfth Baptist Church to speak with Haynes.

“One of the first people I talked to, as many operatives did, was Dr. Haynes,” she said. “Dr. Haynes agreeing that the black community had done too much and come too far and that Mandela would be a retreat was an important clarion call to other ministers.” 

The measure was solidly defeated. Ferriabough Bolling, who called him “the dean” of Boston’s black ministry, said it’s one of countless times when Haynes played a crucial role across decades of leadership in the city’s black community. 

“Everyone saw him as a mentor. He wasn’t a showboat, but he was a giant among men,” she said of Haynes, a lanky man with an otherwise quiet bearing that he shed when preaching from the pulpit. “Everyone went to Dr. Haynes for advice. He was trusted to do right by the community.” 

Haynes earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from the New England School of Theology in Brookline in 1949, a graduate degree from Shelton College in New York City in 1950, studied at the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, and was awarded multiple honorary doctorates.

After serving two terms in the House, Haynes went on to serve for 16 years on the state parole board. “At the time, the feeling in the black community was a person of the cloth would go forth with the same principles and values in politics as he would in his church,” said Royal Bolling, Jr., a former Mattapan state representative who said Martin Luther King’s prominent role in public issues served as a model for other black ministers. 

Haynes said King himself encouraged him to run when he asked the civil rights leader what he thought about a minister diving into politics. “He adamantly encouraged me, stating that it’s very important that we have folk who are compatible to our mission and struggle inside the Legislature,” Haynes said in the 2009 UMass Boston video. 

From his early work as a youth minister to his time on the parole board, Haynes had a lifelong passion for helping young people stay on a productive path, or steering those who had veered off it back onto a positive course. (The Haynes Early Education Center in Roxbury, a Boston Public School serving children from pre-kindegarten through first grade, is named after him.) 

“He was someone who kept a focus on the value and uplift of youth in the city,” said Brown, the Twelfth Baptist associate pastor. “There are tons of people who say, ‘If it wasn’t for Dr. Haynes, I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far.’”

“I would say he single-handedly transformed hundreds, if not thousands, of young men’s lives to be better contributors to society,” said Segun Idowu, director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts. The 30-year-old Idowu said he “grew up in the Twelfth Baptist” and viewed Haynes as another grandfather. 

Idowu’s own grandfather, Rev. Earl Lawson, attended Morehouse College with Martin Luther King, went on to serve as pastor at a Baptist church in Malden, and helped Haynes coordinate King’s 1965 march to Boston Common. 

Haynes was on close terms with Mayor Kevin White, Congressman Joe Moakley, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, who all sought his counsel on issues, including during the turmoil of Boston’s busing years in the 1970s. “In those kinds of conflicts, you need people who are not in the forefront talking to each other,” said Bolling, the former Mattapan state rep, whose father served with Haynes in the Legislature. 

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