A new sculpture and plaza on the Boston Common honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy


A new sculpture and plaza on the Boston Common honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy

The Embrace by artist Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group unveiled last week in Boston Common. (MASS Design Group)

MASS Design Group, in collaboration with the City of Boston and local nonprofit Embrace Boston, has unveiled a sculpture and supporting landscape on the Boston Common honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(MASS Design Group)

The Embrace, by Brooklyn artist Hank Willis Thomas, sits in the middle of the 6,000-square-foot 1965 Freedom Rally Memorial Plaza, a circular area decorated with over 1,300 granite stone pavers arranged in a quilted star pattern symbolizing collectivism and unity. The pattern responds to a passage from King’s 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

Close to the sculpture, the ground rises and falls to create circular seating close to The Embrace for visitors to reflect on King’s activism and message. A wall encircling the plaza features a quote from King’s wife Coretta Scott King.

(MASS Design Group)

MASS worked with Embrace Boston, a nonprofit that honors and advances the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Scott King on the plan for the sculpture and surrounding plaza, which is located in Boston Common, a 50-acre park in downtown Bean Town.

Solicitations for the project kicked off at the end of 2017, when Embrace Boston put out a request for proposals for a public monument. In March 2019, it chose The Embrace, a proposal from Willis Thomas, out of over 100 submissions. In 2021, the Boston Art Commission voted to approve the final design of the memorial.

The Embrace is a testament to what we can achieve when we come together,” the artist said in a press release. “The sculpture embodies people’s capacity for love, change, and hope for the future.”

(MASS Design Group)

The massive 38,000-pound, 20-by-25-foot bronze sculpture depicts the way the Kings held each other after Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Made from over 600 individual pieces, the sculpture is the first new monument on the Common in over 30 years.

A bronze plaque erected within the plaza honors 64 of Boston’s civil rights leaders who joined Dr. King in the fight for equality and civil rights.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King met and married in Boston, while they were students. A little over a decade later, on April 23, 1965, Dr. King stood on the Common to address a crowd of 22,000, calling on the city and its leaders to live up to its highest ideals.

To mark the completion of this sculpture and plaza, a celebratory event  last week included Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, members of the King Family, artist Hank Willis Thomas, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, among others.

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,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in a press announcement. “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.”

Martin Luther King III shared via a press release that his “parents’ time in Boston is often a forgotten part of their history – and the history of the movement they helped inspire. The Embrace is a commemoration of their relationship and journey and represents the meaningful role Boston served in our history.” He continued: “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.”

“When I see the sculpture, sitting in that plaza which tells the story of the Garment of Destiny, with the Kings surrounded and uplifted by local civil rights heroes from Boston, it’s the scale, the optimism, the authenticity, the honesty of it,” MASS Design Group Principal and lead architect Jonathan Evans added. “You can’t help but feel something. You can’t help but want to actually do something about it. It’s a call to action.”

The Embrace will open fully to the public in February.