Boston unveils new MLK memorial

Written by Matthew Robinson, CNN

The winning design for a new Boston memorial dedicated to civil rights pioneers Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King has been revealed.

The installation, entitled “The Embrace” and designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group, was selected from a total of 126 submissions from around the world, which were later narrowed down to five finalists.

The 22-foot bronze sculpture will rise above Boston Common and was announced as the winner Monday by King Boston, an organization established to commemorate the Kings. It features interlocked arms, which represent the “Kings locked in a powerful embrace” and walking arm-in-arm in a civil rights protest, according to King Boston.

The design focused on an “act rather than the individual,” as a way of highlighting the Kings’ commitment to equality and the collective role in the promotion of civil rights, said the group.

The sculpture will allow passersby to walk underneath the interlocked hands.

The sculpture will allow passersby to walk underneath the interlocked hands. Credit: MASS Design Group

Passersby will be able to walk underneath the interlocked arms and will be reflected back in the sculpture’s gleaming surface. Two gathering spaces will also be created, one of which will face the Parkman Bandstand where King spoke in 1965.

Paul English, co-chairman of King Boston, said in an email interview that the memorial will allow people to “learn about the significant time that MLK and Coretta spent together in Boston, where they met as students, and then to imagine what they would be working on in Boston if they were alive today.”

English said that he created King Boston in September 2017 as he had become “depressed and worried about some of the racism” which had emerged in America, and wanted his city to “do something positive” to show that there are still people who care about racial equality.

Thomas said in a phone interview that the work will pay homage to “two wonderful human beings” and hoped that people will see themselves in its reflection. He added that it will urge viewers to “embrace a call to action, embrace community, loved ones and those you don’t know.”

Martin Luther King with his wife Coretta Scott King in 1964.

Martin Luther King with his wife Coretta Scott King in 1964. Credit: Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The winning sculpture was selected by a panel of experts, including renowned academics, visual artists and curators. Over 1,000 public comments were also taken into account, after the finalists’ designs were put on display at the Boston Public Library, the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building and online.

English said that the design was chosen as it received by far the most positive public support, and would best “stand the test of time.” He added that by having a memorial focused on an embrace, it can “teach us that love starts in the home but that is should radiate out to friends and strangers alike.”

“We hope that this memorial will do just that in Boston. I hope that there are 10,000 photos a year taken of people hugging next to The Embrace,” he said.

The Kings had a strong connection with Boston, after King obtained his doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University and Coretta Scott King studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. King returned to the city in 1965 and told a crowd of around 22,000 that “Boston must become a testing ground for the ideal of freedom,” and urged his followers to combat the “crippling poverty and injustice” that he saw there.

Boston City Hall has given the green light for the construction of the sculpture, and it is expected to be unveiled in 2020.

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