"The Embrace" with Hank Willis Thomas

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Boston, Massachusetts, USA

The Garment of Destiny

“In a real sense all life is interrelated. 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.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

King Boston is a non-profit organization working with the City of Boston to celebrate, honor, and advance the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. One of their initiatives is a call for proposals to design a memorial in the Boston Common that honors the Kings' legacy. At the end of 2017, King Boston issued this call, receiving 126 applications that were ultimately narrowed down to five finalists. On March 4, 2019, our proposal with artist Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace, was selected.

We were inspired by images of the Kings locked in a powerful embrace and walking arm in arm at the frontlines of a protest or march. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King understood the power of physical collectiveness in advancing our fight against injustice. As we reflected upon the King legacy, one image—one idea—emerged above the others: Embrace.

On multiple occasions, the nation witnessed the Kings embracing at the frontlines of a march. A monument that captures this declares that love is the ultimate weapon against injustice. In evoking the love shared between the Kings, their commitment to each other, and their ideals, The Embrace is overwhelmingly simple and accessible: it is about what we share, not what sets us apart.

Beneath the 20-22' high arms of Dr. King and Coretta Scott, passersby will be reminded of our shared human connection. This memorial will envelop participants, allowing them to be simultaneously vulnerable and protected. The memorial will solidify the ideals of inclusion that the Kings defended in their united life of activism. We seek to call people into the act of empathy, an idea Coretta Scott captured when she spoke about the power and accessibility of unconditional love. When embraced, this love impels people to go into their community, take risks, and change others' lives for the better.

By highlighting the act of embrace, this memorial shifts the emphasis from singular hero worship to collective action, imploring those curious enough to investigate closer. As a patinated bronze in varying warm tonalities, the memorial will be a sturdy volume with a high sheen, enabling the reflection of sunlight in the Common and elegantly adapting to the natural environment of the park in its own unique way. This material will withstand and support heavy public interaction, allowing generations to enjoy and occupy a public space of introspection and call to action. It will be impossible to remain disengaged.

Inserted as a new node in the network of the Common, the landscape around the memorial will remind visitors of the power of collective action. The 1965 Freedom Rally Memorial plaza is accessed by peace walks that pay tribute to Boston activists for Civil Rights who supported the Rally, inviting us to continue marching together against social injustice. Sitting along a historic desire line in the Common, the design responds to the State House, Black Heritage Trail, and Parkman Bandstand. The ground undulates to create ample seating and levels closest to the Embrace to emphasize the impact of the Kings’ love on the world. The result is a space that can accommodate large or small gatherings and multiple types of engagement. The Embrace will sit in the center of the circular plaza displaying a star quilt pattern that spreads throughout the site. The quilt, fabric that symbolizes unity and collectivism, echoes a famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr: “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Read more about the project on the King Boston website and in The Boston Globe.

Project Details

42.355, -71.0655

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Year: 2019

Status: In Progress

Size: 40,000 sq.ft. plaza

Program: Development of a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King for the city of Boston.

Services: Architecture and Landscape Design

King Boston

Hank Willis Thomas