Just ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “The Embrace” – the long-awaited memorial to the civil rights leader and his wife, Coretta Scott King – was unveiled during a ceremony on Friday, Jan. 13, on the Boston Common.
Mayor Michelle Wu joined the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the Boston Art Commission (BAC), and Embrace Boston for the unveiling of The Embrace and the 1965 Freedom Plaza by artist Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group on the Boston Common. The memorial was initiated via a partnership between the City of Boston and Embrace Boston and “aims to honor the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, celebrate their history in Boston, and spark a public conversation on advancing racial and social justice in Boston today,” according to a press release from the city.
In her remarks, Mayor Wu said: “The Embrace will be a revolutionary space in our country’s oldest public park for conversation, education, and reflection on the Kings’ impact in Boston and the ideals that continue to shape the fabric of our city. The recognition of Coretta Scott King shows that we are a city that will take on the full legacy of Kings and challenge injustice everywhere from a place of love. As we continue our work to ensure Boston is a city for everyone, this memorial is a powerful call to embrace each other more, embrace our nation’s history and embrace what’s possible when we center community.”
Also on hand for the event was Martin Luther King, III, the oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, who said: “My parents’ time in Boston is often a forgotten part of their history – and the history of the movement they helped inspire. The Embrace is a commemoration of their relationship and journey and represents the meaningful role Boston served in our history. This is more than just a sculpture, this historic monument is a symbol of the enduring power of love and beacon of hope for so many people across the globe see my parents life’s work as a calling to make this world a better place. I hope it will inspire the next generation of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott Kings as we continue the fight for peace, justice, and equity for all.”
Described as “a bronze figural abstraction” based on a photo of an embrace between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the Embrace measures 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide. It was the result of a public-private partnership initiated by entrepreneur Paul English, who established the fund at the Boston Foundation and co-chaired the project with Rev. Liz Walker and Rev. Jeffrey Brown. The City of Boston and Embrace Boston convened an Art Committee comprising many of Boston’s cultural leaders to begin the artist selection and design process for the memorial. The Committee was co-chaired by Barry Gaither, Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and Special Consultant at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Karin Goodfellow, Director of Public Art for the City of Boston. The Boston Art Commission voted to approve the final design of the memorial in the spring of 2021.
The memorial sculpture, which will be voted into the city’s public arts collection, sits within the 1965 Freedom Plaza, which is emblazoned with a quotation attributed to Corretta Scott King. It’s located adjacent to the Parkman Bandstand, where Dr. King spoke in 1965.
Said the artist, Hank Willis Thomas: “There are so many monuments that are memorials, but this is intended to really celebrate not only the Kings, but also their legacy and how their legacy plays out in our lives. I really wanted to make the work a call to action. A reminder that each of us has in us the capacity to be either of those two people or actually something inspired by and more influential. Through embracing another person our opportunities grow. I wanted to highlight the power and beauty of coming together with another person to manifest our shared goals. I am honored to be a part of the team that has built this centerpiece and gathering place in the historic city of Boston, and the location where the Kings met.”
In addition to Thomas, Mayor Wu, and members of the King Family, the unveiling program also included remarks from Gov. Maura Healey, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, and former Gov. Deval Patrick, as well as performances by local artists.
Gov. Maura Healey said: “This is a historic year for Boston and Massachusetts. The Embrace’s presence on the Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park, will forever serve as a reminder to all of us of the progress we’ve made and all that is still possible.”
In her remarks, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said: “The Embrace memorial commemorates the Kings’ sacrifice, radical dream, and radical love, and what a source of pride that their story together began right here in the city of Boston. This historic tribute is also a symbol of their vision for radical, revolutionary change, and a reminder of the work that remains in Boston and beyond to build a world that centers justice, equity, and our collective liberation. I was honored to participate in such a groundbreaking event today.”
The Embrace is expected open fully to the public in February, according to the city. To learn more about the project, visit www.embraceboston.org.