Community leaders gathered on Boston Common with gold-colored shovels Wednesday to break ground on “The Embrace,” a memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
The day also marked what would be the 95th birthday of Coretta Scott King, who met her future husband in Boston while she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music and he was a doctoral student at Boston University.
“The Embrace,” a 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture, will honor the lives and legacies of the Kings and serve as a symbol of social justice on the Common, America’s oldest public park. Set to be unveiled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, the memorial is inspired by a famous of photo of the couple hugging, their arms and hands entwined, after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
The groundbreaking occurred under sunny skies and in the public space where 57 years earlier King spoke, calling for Boston to live by its “highest ideals.”
Mayor Michelle Wu and Governor Charlie Baker were among the officials who spoke during the ceremony about the Kings’ influence on Boston.
“We’re a city that will take on the legacy that Dr. King and Coretta Scott King fought for, waging war against injustice and racism in all its forms in every corner, but also doing so from a place of love,” Wu said.
Baker said he hopes the memorial on the historic common “will be there as a constant reminder to all of us, of all that’s left to be done, and why it’s so important that it be done here in the Commonwealth and here in the city of Boston. Once again, we need to be that shining city on a hill that sends a message to everybody else.”
The memorial is being built by King Boston, a nonprofit program of The Boston Foundation. The sculpture, designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas, will be surrounded by a plaza, a space for visitors to reflect on the Kings’ embrace of racial equality and social justice.
“We want to honor both our past and the shoulders of the giants on which we stand upon and also represent the future, and so a memorial like this has the opportunity to do both,” said Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of King Boston.
In addition to the memorial, King Boston also plans to honor the Kings with a Center for Economic Justice in Roxbury, and a public lecture series called “Embrace Ideas” which will engage the community in antiracist discourse.
The Rev. Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church said he feels most encouraged by the efforts of King Boston not only to create a “symbol” downtown, but to encourage a public dialogue about racial equality.
“Our work together as a community really matters,“ said Hammond, who is also the chairman of the Ten Point Coalition, a clergy-led group that focuses on urban youth. “That work has to go beyond the symbolism of monuments.”
Grace Gilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.