FILE – Massachusetts state Sen. Bill Owens, D-Boston, center, speaks during a news conference on City Hall Plaza, in Boston, April 6, 1976, the day after the assault on Ted Landsmark at an anti-busing demonstration. Owens, the first Black state senator in Massachusetts who fought for racial justice and economic equality, and was one of the first to call for reparations for the descendants of Black slaves, died Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, his family said in a statement. He was 84. (Ted Dully/The Boston Globe via AP, File)

AP

Bill Owens, the first Black state senator in Massachusetts, who fought for racial justice and economic equality and was one of the first to call for reparations for the descendants of Black slaves, has died, his family said in a statement.

Owens died in his sleep Saturday with family by his side after a period of declining health and three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, the family said. He was 84.

“We are fortunate to have had him for 84 years and to call him family,” the statement said. “His legacy will continue in those he has touched, laws he has changed and the children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews he has loved and influenced.”

He helped secure funds to build Roxbury Community College, created the State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance, started a youth summer jobs program, and helped pass an assault weapons ban.

He was first elected to the state House in 1972 and served two stints in the Senate starting in 1974 until 1992.

He was a native of Demopolis, Alabama, who moved to Boston when he was 15.

He attended The English High School, and earned degrees from Boston University, Harvard University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, according to the state archives.

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This story has been corrected to make clear that Owens fought for economic equality, not inequality.

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