Designed by Hank Wills Thomas, The Embrace commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scot King.
As depicted in the bronze sculpture, the four intertwined arms represent the hug shared by the couple after Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Situated in Boston, the Embrace is 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide and it weighs 19 tons.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scot King made a lot of history in Boston. King Jr. met Coretta Scot in Boston in the 50s. He earned his Ph.D. in Theology at Boston University. Martin Luther King Jr. also preached in Boston, and in 1965, led a civil rights march from the Roxbury neighborhood to Boston Common. Hence the sculpture has been tagged as ‘a symbol of Boston’
The sculpture design is intended to emphasize the King’s commitment to nonviolence and the importance of love as a motivating factor in their civil rights movement work
According to the designer of the sculpture, Hank Wills Thomas, he researched about 100 photos of Martin Luther King Jr. but the one that caught his attention is the embrace between the couple.
“I just love that image, him hugging her with such glee and such joy and such pride, and I saw the pride on her face. And I recognized that this was teamwork. And all of his weight in that picture is, like, on her,” Thomas said.
“There was an intimacy that I saw that wasn’t really highlighted often. Often when you do look closely at pictures, they’re holding each other’s hands,” he added.
According to Imari Paris Jeffries, who leads Embrace Boston, the non-profit organization that raised $8 million to create the sculpture and an additional $2.5 million to preserve it, the Embrace “will be a symbol of love, belonging, and hope.”
The process to design the sculpture started in 2017 when King Boston, an organization dedicated to establishing a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., in Boston, put out a national call for proposals for an artwork in honor of the civil rights activist.
Among 126 proposals submitted in 2019, Hank Wills Thomas’ was selected after consultation with the King family. Also, the people of Boston chose Thomas’ idea after casting their ballots at voting booths set up in post offices, libraries, and city hall.
The sculpture was installed in Boston Common in December 2022 and unveiled on January 13, 2023. Large Crowds gathered to view the new statue on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with dignitaries present, along with the King’s son and one of their granddaughters.
The artwork has been designed 20 feet high enough for visitors to be able to walk through “The Embrace” and experience that spirit themselves.
According to Thomas, “When you’re standing inside the sculpture, you will be in the heart of their embrace.”
“And when you really think about what happens when two people embrace one another, their hearts [line up]. You’re inside the love of these two people. There are so many monuments to victims of war; there are very, very few monuments to love,” Thomas said.
Criticism and Reactions
Since its unveiling, the Embrace has been met with praises and a lot of criticism from people and social media users alike.
14-year-old king’s granddaughter, Yolanda King stated that she saw “love and strength and unity in these hands and how they symbolize a beautiful marriage and partnership.”
Meanwhile, Twitter users noted that the sculpture is ugly, and others stated the sculpture appeared to be pornographic when viewed from various angles.
Seneca Scott, a cousin of Coretta Scott King, called the sculpture “masturbatory”, “insulting to the black community,” and a “waste of money”; and that in his opinion, “ten million dollars were wasted.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review called the statue “an artistic and civic failure. The photograph from which it takes inspiration could be an iconic image of the Kings. But limbs, unattached to whole bodies, make for an uncanny sculptural subject. One must be told what it is to make any connection to Martin Luther King Jr.”
Rasheed N. Walters of The Boston Globe wrote that the sculpture was “aesthetically unpleasant.”
Responding to the criticism of the sculpture in an interview, Thomas said he would not change any element of the sculpture if asked, reiterating that the Boston public had voted in favor of his design.
“This is a piece that was selected by the people of Boston, this is not a ‘Hank just came and put something,'” he said.
He went on to claim that of the thousands of people who had helped design and fabricate the piece, none had seen the sculpture in a pornographic light, as described by critics, and he deemed that viewing of the work to be “perverse.”