Boston Unveils “The Embrace”: A Memorial to Civil Rights

Isabelle Larabee, Contributing Writer

On January 13th, 2023, the City of Boston unveiled “The Embrace”: a 22-foot tall, 40-foot wide bronze sculpture located in the center of Boston Common, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) and his wife, Corretta Scott King. The monument, designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas, consists of just their arms, and is meant to replicate an image of the two hugging after MLK won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. The sculpture also serves as a tribute to the 1965 Civil Rights March held in Boston, where MLK led over 20,000 people from Roxbury, a predominantly Black neighborhood, to Boston Common. Despite these attempts at connecting the sculpture to MLK, the monument’s appearance is extremely controversial, with people arguing that it fails to represent the Kings to the degree that it should. 

The sculpture serves as a tribute to the 1965 Civil Rights March in Boston.

When asked about her thoughts on the new monument, Elena Gill ’25 told the Register Forum, “I would have thought the sculpture would be of [MLK’s] face or at least a whole statue of him.” Without the reference photo, she explained that she couldn’t tell what the sculpture was supposed to be. 

Considering the legacy of the Kings, it is imperative that a monument in their dedication fully represents them and their message. For some, the fact that the reaction to the monument centers around its appearance hinders this, as it takes away from the individuals being celebrated. Naseem Anjaria ’25 echoed this sentiment: “Instead of people talking about the importance of the man it represented, people only talked about its physical appearance… it feels disrespectful for him to be commemorated in such a negative light.” Many see the piece’s abstractness as illsuited and inappropriate for the context of the monument. Gill summarized, “I like the intention, but it wasn’t really executed.”

Although the monument’s appearance shook some heads, its thoughtful message still stands clear. Junee Manandhar ’23 told the Register Forum, “I really love it. I feel like this [monument] should’ve [existed] earlier because MLK is such an influential person who changed many people.” Daniel Bronstein ’25 agreed, telling the Register Forum “[It is] a beautiful monument remembering the Kings and their history in Boston.” 

As one of few monuments in the U.S. dedicated to love rather than war, it pays tribute to the doctrine of non-violence that MLK advocated for. It also succeeds at displaying the crucial role that Corretta Scott King played in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

“The Embrace” is not a perfect monument, nor does it meet the expectations that were set for it. Nevertheless, the installation of the monument is still influential. Several upcoming events are being planned around the memorial to continue efforts for racial and economic justice in Boston. In celebration of Juneteenth, the City of Boston will host the Embrace Ideas Festival, where communities will gather to spark public conversations about racial issues plaguing Boston and beyond. 

From whichever angle you look at it, The Embrace is a monument that tells us to be open to new perspectives, love, and change; and highlights the positive impact of the Kings and their legacy.

This article also appears in our February 2023 print edition.