King memorial ‘The Embrace’ welcomed with open arms

“I think it will serve as an incredible honor to both MLK and his wife, Coretta,” said Andrea Campbell, president of the Boston City Council.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File
“I think it will serve as an incredible honor to both MLK and his wife, Coretta,” said Andrea Campbell, president of the Boston City Council.

The sculpture was once labeled the most daring of the five finalists, a 22-foot mirrored-bronze monument of interlocking arms meant to honor the partnership between the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and the message of love they shared.

And on Monday, the monument titled “The Embrace” was welcomed with open arms by Boston community leaders as a fitting and long-awaited tribute to the Kings, who met and marched in Boston.

“It’s very powerful,” said Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “It makes you want to say ‘this is significant, I need to take pause and reflect on my life, and how I’m bettering society.’ ”


City Council President Andrea Campbell called the monument “beautiful, and bold,” saying it best reflected the civil rights work of both Kings.

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“I think it will serve as an incredible honor to both MLK and his wife, Coretta,” she said. “I like the theme of ‘The Embrace,’ hand in hand, which was symbolic of the marches and the coming together on all fronts in honor of social justice.”

An official Boston monument to recognize the Kings, who met more than 60 years ago through a mutual friend at Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church, when King was studying here, has been a decade in the making. Recently, Paul English, a local entrepreneur who said he recognized the significance of King’s roots in Boston, reignited the effort and has already received $6 million in donations.

The final pick after a year-long process, “The Embrace,” was designed by Hank Willis Thomas, a Brooklyn-based conceptual artist, in partnership with the MASS Design Group.

In a city with countless statues, typically of men, the final choice was seen as more of an abstract work that will serve to provoke dialogue without having to spell it out, said Barry Gaither, director and curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, and co-chairman of the committee that selected the finalists.


“I think a positive, powerful point for this piece is it has an element of simplicity,” Gaither said, saying the foundation is a message of social, moral and religious work, with a foundation of an “idea of love.”

Before the final selection, Gaither said, the committee had weighed whether to locate the monument downtown, on the Boston Common, or somewhere in the Roxbury neighborhood where King preached and prayed. Though it selected the Common, Gaither said, the committee has now also committed to raising as much as $6 million for a separate project that would establish an economic justice center in Roxbury, while supporting educational programming at the Twelfth Baptist Church.

Former state representative Byron Rushing, from Roxbury and the South End, who followed King’s career, said the committee missed an opportunity to empower Boston’s minority neighborhoods by not placing the monument somewhere along the route of King’s historic 1965 march from Roxbury to the Common. A monument would have generated tourism interest, he said.

He welcomed the idea of the economic justice center, but questioned whether interest in that plan will fade out once a monument is built.

“It’s just a complete missed opportunity,” Rushing said.


Others, such as Campbell, agreed with the need to locate any art in Boston’s neighborhoods, but also welcomed the commitment to a center that will be associated with the monument.

‘I think it will serve as an incredible honor to both MLK and his wife, Coretta.’

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church and member of the King Boston committee, said that both the memorial and the center will at once serve to educate and reflect on the Kings’ work.

Brown also said that “The Embrace” had been his favorite among the finalists all along, for its recognition of the civil rights work of both Kings.

“I think that really encapsulates what we’re trying to do with King Boston,” he said.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.