Perhaps it could be erected on the Common, an obvious option, where the sculpture of Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the all-black Massachusetts 54th Regiment stands.
Or, fittingly, it could go near Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached and worshipped during the 1950s.
Maybe even by Faneuil Hall, a historic landmark whose namesake’s connections to the slave trade have recently caused some to rethink its place in Boston’s civic discourse.
“What a statement that would be,” said Walter Earl Fluker, the MLK Jr. professor of ethical leadership at the Boston University School of Theology.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Wednesday that the city will renew a push to erect a memorial to King in Boston, this time with the firepower of an entrepreneur who is willing to commit $1 million of his own money – a fifth of the anticipated expenses. Thomas M. Menino, the late mayor, had a similar proposal nearly a decade ago, but the initiative stalled because of a lack of funding.
Walsh’s proclamation set off renewed excitement and speculation among those who have sought such a memorial in Boston. They want to know what it would look like in a city dotted with so many historical figures already — usually in the form of bronze statues — but few with King’s message. What would it say? More importantly, where would it go?
“This piece has to be so significant that anyone who comes to Boston wants to go see it,” said state Representative Byron Rushing, a South End Democrat who followed King’s career and his work in Boston. “Boston has the most boring public art of a city of its size in America,” he added, “and we don’t need another bronze statue.”
Rushing proposed a location in Roxbury, perhaps by Grove Hall or Carter Playground, places associated with King’s historic 1965 march to Boston Common.
“The Bostonians who were influenced by him, and the way he influenced Boston, is all part of a message this piece has to carry,” he said.
The Rev. Arthur Thomas Gerald, pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church, on Warren Street in Roxbury, said the very notion of a memorial to King would be an honor to him and his legacy, no matter where it is located. Gerald would politely suggest that it go near the church: Why not in that parking lot across the street that the church owns?
“I think there’s a spot where it could be prominently placed here,” Gerald said, before adding, “We can have a debate of where it goes, but the fact that it’s coming is the real story here.”
King, a native of Alabama, spent the early 1950s in Boston, as a doctoral theology student at Boston University. He also honed his skills as a young minister at Twelfth Baptist. That’s where he would meet his future wife, Coretta Scott, who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music.
King was assassinated in 1968 at age 39. He had returned to Boston just a few years earlier, in 1965, only a month after the march in Selma, Ala., that helped galvanize the civil rights movement nationwide. He marched from the South End to Boston Common, where he declared, “Boston must be a testing ground for the ideals of freedom.”
Boston University has a collection of his papers and a memorial, “Free at Last,” an abstract piece that sits in the center of the university’s Marsh Plaza. The memorial features 50 doves rising in union, meant to symbolize King’s message of peace in each of the 50 states.
Menino proposed the installation of an official public memorial to King and his wife in Boston during a 2008 speech at Twelfth Baptist, with King’s son, Martin Luther King III, by his side. But nothing came to fruition, with Menino saying later that a faltering economy had made it difficult to continue with the plan.
On Wednesday, Walsh said that entrepreneur Paul English would take the reins of a new effort, in partnership with the city, and would coordinate with community members to identify a design and a site — to honor someone Walsh called “this towering figure of history.” Walsh and English said they would seek input from the public.
English, who cofounded the travel site kayak.com, said he was inspired during a recent visit to the MLK memorial in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens and wanted Boston to have one, as well. English acknowledged the BU memorial but said he envisioned one that would be bolder and less abstract.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, a prominent anti-violence leader in Boston, said he could see a monument in one of Boston’s neighborhoods, specifically Roxbury, though he would be open to any idea. He also called for a monument that would honor Coretta Scott King.
“What I would love for it to be is something that provokes conversation with folks,” he said.
Fluker, of Boston University, said installing a memorial at Faneuil Hall would send a symbolic message, but he said a new, larger memorial at BU would be fitting, too — even if he acknowledged holding a bias.
Fluker called for something grand, nonetheless, citing King’s legacy of peace and the current racial climate in America.
“Here, we’re discussing what it means to be a peacemaker, and a person questing for justice,” he said, adding that the location should be a place “where history secretes itself into the present.”
Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, agreed. He pointed to Boston University, Roxbury, and Boston Common as suitable locations where a statue of King would not share space with others that represent Boston’s different times, but would stand on its own.
He cited the memorial in Washington, D.C., calling it awe-inspiring, the type you want to stop at, the type “that transports you to another place.”
“I think wherever this statue of Martin Luther King is placed, it’s got to be a place where there’s a sacred nature to it, a place of sacred inspiration that can be transformed to those folks that are gathering,” he said.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.