Artist Projects

Unveiling The Embrace Boston

Designed by Hank Willis Thomas

Published Friday, Jan 13, 2023

The Embrace Memorial was officially unveiled today on the historic Boston Common commemorating the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King who met and went to school in Boston. Years in the making, the 20-foot-tall, 40-foot-wide sculpture symbolizes the hug Dr. King, Jr. shared with his wife, Coretta, after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The Embrace is a long-lasting symbol of the King’s legacy, their love, and the impact of that love on us all. The Embrace is also about teamwork, and I’d like to thank the many individuals, the City of Boston, and our numerous sponsors, who came together to make this a reality,” says Imari Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of Embrace Boston. “The Embrace sculpture and the surrounding 1965 Freedom Plaza embodies our organization’s vision of a transformed Boston, inviting all who walk within it to witness the legacy of equity in Boston, and see themselves reflected in its future.”

The unveiling ceremony convened Boston’s thriving arts, culture and political communities with national dignitaries and public figures. The program included remarks from Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, members of the King Family, the artist Hank Willis Thomas, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, former Massachusetts Governor Patrick, performances by local artists, and many others. Attendees, dignitaries, and guests celebrated, convened and walked beneath the artwork’s bronze arms for the first time, looking up to imagine a new Boston in the artwork’s bronze reflection.

“The City of Boston’s cultural reckoning is more than symbolic,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “The Embrace serves as a call to action for the City as we continue to pursue equity, diversity and community.”

“This is a historic year for Boston and Massachusetts,” said Governor Maura Healey. “The Embrace’s presence in the Boston Common celebrates the city’s legacy of diversity and ushers in greater, more inclusive progress throughout the state.”

“The Kings’ time in Boston was pivotal for the city and the civil rights movement,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. “Committing to their vision of radical, revolutionary change, The Embrace reminds us how far we’ve come, and the work yet to be done.”

World-renown conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas and global award-winning design firm MASS Design Group led by principal Jonathan Evans, were selected by a committee of local organizers, artists, and community members as the designers for the memorial and plaza. The nearly 37,000-pound sculpture made a cross country journey from Washington State, where it was built at the Walla Walla Foundry, in multiple trucks each carrying pieces of the monument.

“There are so many monuments that are memorials, but this is intended to really celebrate not only the Kings, but also their legacy and how their legacy plays out in our lives. I really wanted to make the work a call to action. A reminder that each of us has in us the capacity to be either of those two people or actually something inspired by and more influential,” said Hank Willis Thomas. “Through embracing another person our opportunities grow. I wanted to highlight the power and beauty of coming together with another person to manifest our shared goals. I am honored to be a part of the team that has built this centerpiece and gathering place in the Historic City of Boston, and the location where the Kings met.”

“From ideation to creation, building The Embrace was an exercise in intention,” said Mass Design Principal, Jonathon Evans. “We’re honored to be a part of the history it celebrates and embrace the future it represents.”

The Embrace memorial, situated within the 1965 Freedom Plaza, also honors 69 local civil rights leaders active between 1950-1970 to uplift the under-told stories of Boston’s Black and Brown community members. Told through (opens in a new window) Embrace Boston’s website and an audio experience app, their stories bring the monument to life as an interactive public archive.

Open to the public in February, The Embrace is now a permanent fixture in Boston landscape, and a cornerstone of equity and justice for Boston residents and visitors. The monument and the surrounding 1965 Freedom Plaza serve as a stepping off point into an anti-racist, welcoming and radical Boston as the city approaches its 400th anniversary in 2030.

About Embrace Boston

Embrace Boston was established at the Boston Foundation in 2017, and their work is intended to inspire change and activate social justice values towards the realization of a radically equitable and inclusive Boston by 2030. Embrace Boston is a nonprofit with a mission to dismantle structural racism through their work at the intersection of arts and culture, community, and research and policy. Collectively, the work is intended to create a radically inclusive and equitable Boston where everyone belongs and the BIPOC community prospers, grounded in joy, love, and wellbeing. The organization is a deeply collaborative, BIPOC-led organization that is working toward an ecosystem which fosters equity, opportunity, and wellbeing for a transformed Boston by 2030, the city’s 400th birthday.

(opens in a new window) To learn more about Embrace Boston, visit their website.
  • Artist Projects — Unveiling Hank Willis Thomas's The Embrace Boston, Jan 13, 2023