'The Embrace' Unveiled in Boston
Mayor Michelle Wu, together with the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the Boston Art Commission (BAC), and Embrace Boston, today announced the unveiling of The Embrace and the 1965 Freedom Plaza by artist Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group on the Boston Common. The new memorial, initiated by a partnership between the City of Boston and Embrace Boston, 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.
"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,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “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.”
“The Embrace is a long-lasting symbol of the Kings’ legacy, their love, and the impact of that love on us all,” said Imari Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of Embrace Boston. “The Embrace is also about teamwork, and I’d like to thank the many individuals, the City of Boston, and our numerous sponsors, who came together to make this a reality. The Embrace sculpture and the surrounding 1965 Freedom Plaza embodies our organization’s vision of a transformed Boston, inviting all who walk within it to witness the legacy of equity in Boston, and see themselves reflected in its future.”
“My parents’ time in Boston is often a forgotten part of their history – and the history of the movement they helped inspire,” said Martin Luther King, III. “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.”
The Embrace is 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 20-foot-tall, 25-foot-wide artwork differs from the singular, heroic form of many memorials to Dr. King and others, instead emphasizing the power of collective action, the role of women as leaders, and the forging of new bonds of solidarity out of mutual empathy and vulnerability. The Embrace is an unprecedented attempt to give shape and prominence to Dr. King’s conception of agape love. It is also intended to reflect Coretta Scott King’s faith in the power of art, and her long life of struggle against militarism, poverty, discrimination, racism, and sexism.
“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,” said artist Hank Willis Thomas. “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.”
The unveiling ceremony convened Boston’s thriving arts, culture, and political communities with national dignitaries and public figures. The program included remarks from Mayor Michelle Wu, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, members of the King Family, artist Hank Willis Thomas, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and performances by local artists. Attendees, dignitaries, and guests celebrated, convened, and walked beneath the artwork’s bronze arms for the first time, looking up to imagine a new Boston in the artwork’s bronze reflection.
“This is a historic year for Boston and Massachusetts,” said Governor Maura Healey. “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.”
“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,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. “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 memorial 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 made up of 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 Embrace is more than a monument to two inspirational leaders in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King,” said M. Lee Pelton, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “It is a testament to a changing Boston that embraces equity, and a new generation of leaders that are making a difference in this city. The Boston Foundation has been honored to partner with the city and work hand in glove with Imari and the Embrace Boston team to make this day possible."
“As young people from around the world—but especially here in Boston, encounter The Embrace, I hope they see themselves reflected in its bronze patina, feel proud, and know that History moves forward from where they stand today,” said Ekua Holmes, Vice-Chair of the Boston Art Commission.
The sculpture, which invites visitors to gather and enter into the Kings’ embrace, is a key component of an extensive vision led by Embrace Boston to create a living memorial and programs honoring the legacy of the Kings and ushering a climate of economic justice and racial equity in the city. It is situated within the 1965 Freedom Plaza, which includes a quotation attributed to Corretta Scott King and commemorates the legacy of local leaders of Greater Boston dedicated to working for civil rights and social justice. Told through Embrace Boston’s website and an audio experience app, their stories bring the memorial to life as an interactive public archive. The 1965 Freedom Plaza Award Selection Committee, a group of activists, educators, local artists, and cultural leaders co-chaired by Tito Jackson and L’Merchie Frazier convened to review and finalize the selection of the 1965 Freedom Plaza honorees.
“From ideation to creation, building The Embrace was an exercise in intention,” said MASS Design Principal, Jonathan Evans. “We’re honored to be a part of the history it celebrates and embrace the future it represents.”
The memorial is located on the Boston Common, adjacent to the Parkman Bandstand, where Dr. King spoke in 1965. It will be voted into City’s public art collection and will serve as a living space for conversation, education, and reflection on the Kings’ time in Boston and the racial and economic justice ideals they put forth to the community.
“Residents and visitors to the city will now be able to interact with and learn from this piece of public art that truly embodies what we value and strive for as a city–collective action, racial equity, empathy, and love,” said Kara Elliott-Ortega, Chief of Arts and Culture. “We’re thrilled to welcome The Embrace into the City’s public art collection and celebrate the collective action and collaborative process that got us to this point.”
The Embrace will open fully to the public in February, a long-term fixture in Boston’s public art landscape, and a cornerstone of equity and justice for Boston residents and visitors. The memorial and the surrounding 1965 Freedom Plaza serve as a stepping off point into an anti-racist, welcoming, and radically equitable Boston as the City approaches its 400th anniversary in 2030.
To learn more about the project, visit www.embraceboston.org.