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‘A monument to love’: MLK memorial clears final hurdle for construction

This artist's rendering provided by MASS Design Group illustrates a proposed monument entitled "The Embrace."
This artist's rendering provided by MASS Design Group illustrates a proposed monument entitled "The Embrace."Design by Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group. Images by MASS Design Group.

A long-sought memorial for Boston Common honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and other civil rights leaders received a key city approval Tuesday that clears the way for construction, according to the nonprofit group that proposed the project.

“The Embrace” — a roughly 20-foot bronze sculpture of four entwined arms with hands clasped — is expected to come to Boston Common next year, said Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of King Boston.

The memorial has the potential to become one of Boston’s “great symbols” for equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, he said in a phone interview.

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“We need a complete transformation and uplifting of all of our cultures in post-pandemic Boston,” Paris Jeffries said. “I believe this is the crown jewel of that culture change.”

In 2019, the design for the memorial was chosen by King Boston from among five finalists. The selection process had input from the community and drew more than 120 submissions.

King earned his doctorate in theology at Boston University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1955, and preached at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. Scott King received a bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music.

The couple met in Boston, and the memorial’s site on the Common marks the place where King led thousands of people during a 1965 march.

The monument also will honor 35 other civil rights leaders, Paris Jeffries said.

Hank Willis Thomas, an artist who proposed “The Embrace” memorial with MASS Design Group, said he wanted people who view the sculpture to think their love matters.

“Through embracing other people, we can make monumental shifts in society,” he said. “And the ripples of that can go on for generations.”

Last month, King Boston said it had raised about $13.5 million of its $15 million goal for the project. On Tuesday, the Boston Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to approve the project, according to a city spokeswoman.

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In a statement, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, said she was thrilled to see the construction of the memorial move forward.

“I thank the Boston Landmarks Commission for unanimously approving this celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. I look forward to this memorial becoming part of Boston’s rich cultural landscape,” Janey said.

The timing of that vote — which coincided with the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer — has not been lost on the project’s proponents.

“The Embrace” is helping to support the national racial reckoning that followed in the wake of Floyd’s death, Paris Jeffries said.

In Boston, Paris Jeffries added, there “is a stream of racism that exists throughout our city,” but change is underway and “The Embrace” will help to reflect this transition.

He pointed to the ascension of leaders like US Representative Ayanna Pressley, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and Janey. There is also a diverse field of candidates running for the city’s mayor, he said.

“There is an emergence of elected and civic leaders that signify this level of transformation that the city is going through,” Paris Jeffries said. “To also have symbols that represent that transformation is incredibly powerful.”

Work on the memorial stretches back years, pre-dating the national demands for justice in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, as well as the havoc and trauma wrought by the pandemic.

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But as what happens with most art, Thomas said, the times catch up with what “we were already thinking about and doing.”

“It’s a monument to love. There are monuments to war all over the world,” Thomas said. “There are very few monuments to peace and love.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.