Mr. Marvin Gilmore had dinner at Mix-It Restaurant in Cambridge on September 7, 2015.
“There are many heroes in the story of Boston’s remarkable revival, and one of them is Marvin Gilmore,” said Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts, in a newly released biography about the 90-year-old Cambridge resident. “In fact, his story should be an inspiration to every young person in this country who wants to do great things.”
Wanting to share Gilmore’s stories and his role in helping the Greater Boston area heal its racial divide, journalist Paul Katzeff recently published “Marvin Gilmore: Crusader for Freedom,” a 409-page biography.”Marvin is the grandson of slaves,” Katzeff told the Chronicle. “He grew up poor in Cambridge. Yet he achieved the American dream, and he has done that while helping others.”
According to Katzeff, the book reads like a thriller and portrays the historic events that surrounded Gilmore’s life, including his participation in the army in World War II and his role in the Civil Rights Movement.
In the 1960s, for example, Gilmore traveled with his friend, Bill Russell, a basketball star, to Mississippi to support enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but they were threatened with violence by armed segregationists.
And he snuck his way into the dressing room of Hollywood star Sammy Davis Jr. to recruit him into headlining a fundraiser concert for the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Today, Gilmore is still helping others, as the head of the Community Development Corporation of Boston (CDC), an organization that offers leadership and training to minority communities to encourage economic growth in the inner city.
He said his commitment to activism started right at home, while watching his mother help people in Cambridge.
“She drilled that in me: Be honest, be a man, and don’t lie,” Gilmore told the Chronicle. “That was her style, helping people who could not help themselves. She raised me to understand to help others who cannot help themselves.”
Thus Gilmore voluntarily joined the army at 17, battling German troops and fighting in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He earned U.S. Army medals for his service, and he was awarded the Legion of Honor from France.
But, according to Gilmore, when the war was over and it was time to return to America, white officers would not let him board the ship.Gilmore had his fair share of trials and tribulations. He worked as a hospital orderly, who was forced to wash dead bodies, and a musician, who was turned down for jobs because he was black.
He was threatened or beaten up if he tried to ride white-only military buses in the South, or if he tried to ride in the front of some buses, Katzeff said. And while fighting in Europe during World War II, he was threatened or beaten by white military police just because he was black, Katzeff said.
“But he’s a patriotic American through and through,” Katzeff said. “And his motivation has not been racial resentment. It has been a fervent desire to make America better, driven by a love of his country.”
Gilmore has led the campaign to bring jobs and housing to Boston’s Southwest Corridor, his first undertaking for the CDC. He has been instrumental in the battle to open better-paying executive jobs to African-Americans, and he started the Western Front music club in Cambridge.
“Marvin is the ‘Mayor of Cambridge,’” Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a professor at Harvard Law School, said in Katzeff’s book. “He may not have that title officially, but he is called that because he knows everything about the city, he goes everywhere, is resilient, is part of any movement to enact meaningful change in this city.”