‘We are making history today’: Community leaders break ground on ‘The Embrace’ memorial honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

“This moment represents the power of all of us and is part of a vision to create a radically equitable and inclusive Boston by 2030.” 

Hank Willis Thomas (center) poses with King Boston's Executive Director Imari Paris Jeffries and others involved in "The Embrace" memorial at the ceremonial groundbreaking April 27. Marta Hill

On what would have been Coretta Scott King’s 95th birthday April 27, officials, community leaders, and community members gathered to ceremonially break the ground on “The Embrace,” a memorial honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

The memorial will be the first new memorial on the Boston Common in more than three decades, and it’s spearheaded by King Boston, a nonprofit program of The Boston Foundation. “The Embrace” is a representation of the couple’s arms and hands entwined in a hug after Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. 


The site of the memorial is near the Parkman Bandstand where Dr. King led a rally and spoke in 1965. It was already blocked off as preparations began, but on Wednesday it saw a joyful gathering of people from all parts of Boston. 

“Over the last couple of years, we understood that King Boston needed to meet the moment. It was an opportunity to bring us all together to survive the global pandemic, to continue the fight for justice and to combat the economic disparities that have historically plagued communities of color in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth,” Imari Paris Jeffries, the executive director of King Boston, said at the event. 

The groundbreaking brought together many elected officials, including Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. In his remarks, Baker congratulated Paris Jeffries and his team on tirelessly working through the pandemic to raise money and get the project going. 

"The Embrace":

“As one of the people who was involved in the process of getting the licenses and the permits and the permission and all of the paperwork process that was necessary to make this happen, I think I know why it’s been 125 years,” Charlie Baker said, referring to the dedication of the Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth Regiment Memorial on the Common back in 1897. “I can’t think of a better way to break the dam than with this particular message that this embrace will send.”


The memorial, a 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture, is set to be unveiled on Martin Luther King Jr. day in January of 2023.

“The memorial that we’re here to celebrate today is step one, for a long journey that King Boston has started and [is] going to be on for the next several years,” Paul English, King Boston’s founder, said. “The thing that I’m interested in particular is working on issues of racial equity, wealth equity and for trying to figure out how we can bring more $100,000 jobs into Dorchester and Roxbury and other neighborhoods in Boston.”

King Boston didn’t just dream up a memorial for the United States’ first public park; the organization also has plans to honor the Kings with a Center for Economic Justice in Roxbury and a public lecture series called “Embrace Ideas” that will engage the community in antiracist discussions.

“We are making history today. But it is not enough to know history. It must inspire, provoke, elevate, anger, and teach us. History must move us and change us. We are at a critical moment as you know in this nation’s history and as optimistic as I would like to be, none of us is certain where this country is headed,” said Rev. Liz Walker, co-chair of King Boston. “These are troubled times but this day gives us great hope that we will learn from and embrace the lessons from our past, and then act on them.”

Just the beginning

Many speakers spoke of “The Embrace” as just the start of efforts in Boston, and pointed to the Kings’ influence in Boston as one to embrace wholeheartedly. 


“We’re a city that will take on the legacy that Dr. King and Corretta Scott King fought for, waging war against injustice and racism in all its forms in every corner, but also doing so from a place of love,” Wu said. “Together we embrace our capacity for collaboration, innovation here in Boston, our capacity to create and make history every single day, and we embrace the possibility for our future when we truly bring everyone into our community.”

The Kings have many ties to Boston, perhaps most notably that they met while he was a student at Boston University and she was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. 

“The Embrace” is certainly directly tied to their legacy, but Paris Jeffries said it also represents the legacy of “the local giants whose shoulders we stand upon today.”

“This moment represents the power of all of us and is part of a vision to create a radically equitable and inclusive Boston by 2030, the city’s 400th birthday,” Paris Jeffries said. “We thank our community partners for joining us. We thank you all for believing in our shared vision. We know that ‘The Embrace’ will stand tall as our collective symbol of love, equity, inclusion, belonging and justice. It is a blessing to be with you here today.”

So far to go

Baker reflected on how far Massachusetts as a whole has come since the Kings’ days — pointing to the influential Black men and women running some of the state’s most important institutions — but emphasized that the work is not done. 


“This is this sort of thing that requires everybody to embrace the notion that every day if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving back,” Baker said. “I really do hope this memorial and all it stands for and the work that will be done by the center going forward, will be there as a constant reminder to all of us, of all that’s left to be done, and why it’s so important that it’d be done here in the Commonwealth and here in the city of Boston.”

Former state representative and former executive director of King Boston Marie St. Fleur speaks at the groundbreaking April 27. – Marta Hill

The sculpture is designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas and the MASS Design Group, who was chosen out of 126 teams, and will be surrounded by a plaza designed to allow visitors to reflect on the Kings’ legacy.

Before leaders moved to a pile of dirt to take the first ceremonial shovelfuls beginning construction on the memorial, former state representative and former executive director of King Boston Marie St. Fleur expressed how much she was looking forward to the legacy this memorial will leave. Specifically, she said she is looking forward to one day walking through the park with her grandchild and being able to look up at the statue.

“All of us want to leave a little footprint in the sands of time. We really do. We want to be able to look and say ‘you know what? I left a little piece of me here.’ We’ve done that today,” St. Fleur said. “This is a relay race about who we want to be in this country, who we want to be in this city, and it’s up to us and it’s not just words, it’s action.”


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