As the mid-morning light swept across St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury Tuesday, singer Lovely Hoffman led the two dozen or so people assembled in a rendition of the Black National Anthem. It was a tribute to Mary Powell — the person who introduced Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early 1950’s. On this day, after years of lying in an unmarked grave, Powell finally received a gravestone.

“I feel as though I was danced by a larger force to sort of celebrate this woman’s life. Whose work, however modest, however humble, however unintentional, was transformative for this world, just by the introduction,” said Clennon King, a film documentarian and historian who organized the event.

With Clennon King (no relation to MLK) standing by, Powell’s surviving son Michael and grandchildren lifted a burlap cover to reveal a black granite grave stone bearing the image of the late Boston school teacher and these words etched onto the rock:

Mary Louise Stamper, Sept. 7- 1915 – Sept. 11. 1991.
She matched Martin with Coretta.
Their love changed the world we knew.
Behold His might and power
In the little things we do.

In the winter of 2023, in the same section of the cemetery, GBH News interviewed Wendy Gelberg, an amateur genealogist who specializes in finding often forgotten gravesites. At the request of Clennon King she had searched and discovered the plot containing Powell’s remains. King’s request came as Boston was unveiling “The Embrace,” the iconic sculpture dedicated to MLK and Coretta on the Boston Common. Clennon King, who knew of Powell’s historic role, said that she was overshadowed by The Embrace and he pledged to “rescue” her memory from anonymity.

20240618_103500 Graveside.jpg
Mary Powell's son, Michael (r), granddaughter Michelle, and grandson Justin, gather at the St. James The Apostle section of St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury to unveil a headstone in her memory, after three decades in an unmarked grave site.
Phillip Martin, GBH News

Gelberg sat in the front row during Tuesday’s outdoor ceremony. She said it felt like the process of discovery and recognition had come full circle. “I’m just delighted that this has all come together the way that it has,” she said.

In the year since Gelberg wiped snow from the ground of the cemetery while searching for Powell’s grave, a host of other Boston area residents and institutions have played a role in honoring her, including the New England Conservatory of Music, where she studied, the Boston Public Schools, where she taught, and Our Lady of Lourdes, where she worshipped.

David and Gina DeFilippo, owners of Woodlawn Memorials in Everett, said they paid tribute to Ms. Powell by providing the headstone, which the site has lacked all these years. Michael Powell said that there is a second plot next to his mother’s where he expects to be buried, and that he was assuming the family would make a joint marker for the two of them after his death.

DeFilippo, said once he heard the story about the missing headstone through the Monument Builders of North America trade association, he and his wife did not hesitate to act.

“I was honored to provide a permanent memorial to remember her,” he said.

Wearing a crisp blue suit standing near his mother’s grave, Michael Powell said he was deeply grateful to everyone who played a role in honoring her, especially Clennon King.

“Clennon stepped in and just took care and organized,” he said. “And I’m so appreciative. I couldn’t be happier how this turned out, reflecting from then to now. It’s just a tremendous feeling for me, my family, and then all the other people who are sharing here today.”

Powell said his mother, a trained opera singer and teacher, was more than the person who introduced the famous civil rights leaders during their time in Boston.

“Yes, she introduced Martin to Coretta, but she had a different whole life of her own,” he said. “She had our own agenda. And Martin and Coretta and the Conservatory were just a small part of who she was and what she wanted to accomplish.”

Powell’s gravesite is a permanent part of a tour Clennon King has created called the Martin and Coretta’s Boston Love Story Trail. It is the last stop, number 27, on a list of addresses where the couple put Boston on the map of civil rights history.

“I want Boston to own its history in the fullest sense, because it’s their story,” King said. “It’s all of our stories. And it’s just not about Bostonians. It’s about people sitting in Atlanta who don’t know about the Boston chapter of King and Coretta. It’s their legacy. It’s all of our legacy.”

And to Mary Powell’s matchmaking role, King said, “It was a little thing, but it was so transformative that affected all of us. And so, to me she’s a giant. I’m proud to stand on her shoulders. And that’s what I owe her. I owe her that celebration.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the school where Mary Powell studied music.