A new public memorial by Hank Willis Thomas honors the love and sacrifices of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. in the city where they first met.

On Friday, January 13, the Boston Common — which is the nation’s oldest public park — unveiled its first permanent memorial in 60 years, titled “The Embrace” (2023). The 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture shows King and Scott’s arms intertwined in a hug, which Thomas based on a 1964 photograph of the moment they learned that King won the Nobel Peace Prize. Rather than recreate the entire scene, Thomas isolated their points of contact, leaving space for visitors to stand within.

A collaboration with MASS Design Group, Walla Walla Foundry, and the local nonprofit Embrace Boston, the rounded sculpture at Boston Common commemorates not just King’s political contributions but Scott’s often underappreciated role in the Civil Rights movement. 

In an interview with local news, Embrace Boston Executive Director Imari Paris Jeffries emphasized Scott’s invaluable role in solidifying King’s legacy.

“Mrs. King is on the bottom of the hug, and you could see the joy and the love in the photo, but you could see Mrs. King literally holding the weight of Dr. King in her arms,” Jeffries said. “And it also speaks to the power of Black women and women in general, being the anchors and the keepers of movements in this country.”

An alternative view of the new public sculpture (photo by Skanska, courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery)

Scott and King both grew up in the South, but they first met in the early 1950s while respectively attending the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston University. Scott claimed that on their first date, King said he planned to “kill Jim Crow,” and the couple married in Alabama just 16 months later. 

In 1955, in the aftermath of the Selma march, King returned to Massachusetts to lead 20,000 people from the city of Roxbury to the Boston Common, which became the first Civil Rights march in the Northeast; that same year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began its surveillance of King that persisted until his assassination in April 1968. During his last trip to Boston, he gave an impassioned speech at Ford Hall claiming that the “estrangement of the races in the North can be as devastating as the segregation of the races in the South.”

In his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, King praised Coretta Scott for providing the “love, sacrifices, and loyalty [without which] neither life nor work would bring fulfillment.” Mere weeks after his death, she stood in for her late husband at anti-Vietnam War rallies and helped launch the Poor People’s Campaign. In the years following, she founded the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and headed a coalition to establish a national holiday in his name. Scott died in 2006.

At the “Embrace” unveiling ceremony on Friday afternoon, surviving members of the King family gave speeches alongside Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Governor Maura Healey, and a land acknowledgment from Massachusett Ponkapoag elder Elizabeth Solomon. Rev. Liz Walker of Embrace Boston detailed her childhood experience attending one of King’s speeches in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“I will never forget the electricity of that moment, when ordinary people felt inspired to take extraordinary measures in the name of love,” Walker said.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King in 1965 (via Wikimedia Commons)

King and Scott’s son- and daughter-in-law, Martin Luther King III and Andrea Waters King, spoke alongside their daughter Yolanda Renee King, the late couple’s only granddaughter. 

“They both loved this city because of its proud heritage as a hotbed of the abolitionist movement, and its unique intellectual and educational resources,” Martin Luther King III said. “And indeed, Boston became the place where they forged a partnership that would change America and make a powerful contribution to the Black freedom struggle. That is what I see in this beautiful monument.”

“I feel that they are somehow with me, that our spirits are joined in the quest for a just, loving, and peaceful world,” Renee King said. “There is a sense in which we are all children and grandchildren of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, and we are all challenged to carry forth their unfinished work. This monument is almost like love 360, because we all really need more love in this world.”

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Billie Anania

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.

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