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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue ‘The Embrace’ Unveiled in Boston to Mixed Reactions Online

A statue designed by Brooklyn-based artist Hank Willis Thomas called “The Embrace,” imagined as a monument to the love of Coretta Scott King, was unveiled in Boston on Friday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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The Embrace, designed to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

The statue was commissioned by entrepreneur Paul English — who co-founded travel site Kayak and the Boston Venture Studio — “as a result of calls for a memorial to Dr. King spanning several decades,” the mayor’s office said in 2021. The Boston Art Commission selected Thomas, a conceptual artist based in Brooklyn, along with collaborator MASS Design Group, in 2019, and approved the final plan unanimously, the mayor’s office added.

“The Embrace” is intended to reference a famous photo of King and his wife, Coretta, hugging after King won the Nobel Peace Prize. King met his wife, Coretta, in Boston when they were both students.

Per the New York Times, the sculpture weighs 19 tons and is constructed from over 600 pieces of bronze. It is in the Boston Common in the 1965 Freedom Plaza, which celebrates other civil rights leaders in the City. It’s about 20 feet tall.

Reactions have been mixed. Some praised the sculpture’s “beauty and power” while others called it a “waste of money” or even sexually suggestive. Online, the discussion also turned to issues of historicity and how to honor the civil rights leader’s legacy.

“You never wake up and think you’d be able to contribute meaningfully to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King,” Thomas told the NYT.

The sculpture, “differs from the singular, heroic form of many memorials to Dr. King and others, instead emphasizing the power of collective action, the role of women as leaders, and the forging of new bonds of solidarity out of mutual empathy and vulnerability,” the mayor’s office also said.

Embrace Boston, a nonprofit focused on arts and racial justice, that helped fund the statute, said in a statement the work was “an incredible milestone in our journey towards Boston’s future.”

Still, the statue generated a fair amount of online controversy over the weekend.

“Y’all do everything but give us what’s owed. REPARATIONS,” musical artist Chris Crack wrote. (The Boston City Council did approve a commission to study reparations in December.)

Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah criticized the sculpture in a Twitter thread:

“It doesn’t sit well with me that Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King are reduced to body parts– just their arms. Not their faces- their expressions,” she wrote.

A cousin of Coretta gave an interview to the New York Post where he said the statue was a “waste of money.”

“As to the critics – they have not seen it in person. It is hard to show in 2D something that is this magical in 3D,” English told Entrepreneur via email.

“But I’ve been hanging out at the memorial the last few days, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

Mayor Michelle Wu’s office and Embrace did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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