King Boston broke ground on the Embrace Memorial, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, on April 27 with a ceremony at the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common.
Imari Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of King Boston, was joined by colleagues from King Boston, as well as Boston’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Embrace designer Hank Willis Thomas, Amandi Music, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Governor Charlie Baker, and US Attorney Rachael Rollins, as well as supporters and funders, for the celebration, which took place on what would have been Coretta Scott King’s 95th birthday.
The Embrace Memorial will be a 22 foot bronze sculpture depicting the hands and arms of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, based on a 1964 photo of the two after King found out he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The design was chosen out of 126 submissions from around the globe by an art team at King Boston and the City of Boston, after being narrowed down to five finalists. The Embrace was designed by Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group, and will be located near the Tremont Street side of the Boston Common.
According to a press release, “The monument will be the country’s largest memorial dedicated to equity representing Boston’s path to becoming the city where all are welcome and a place of opportunity for everyone.”
Imari Paris Jeffries said at the event, “this moment represents the power of all of us and is part of a vision to create a radically and equitable and inclusive Boston, by 2030, the city’s 400th birthday.”
Along with the Embrace Memorial, King Boston has plans for a Center for Economic Justice, which, according to the King Boston website, will be “grounded in community engagement and aimed at generating the data and knowledge needed to inform movements at the grassroots level and beyond.” The center will eventually become a “research institute,” and partner with “community groups, coalitions, and other stakeholders,” the website states.
Sam Giarratani, a public art manager who worked closely with Hank Willis Thomas on the design side of the memorial process, is a Revere native and moved to Winthrop when she was a teenager.
“It’s been incredible, for lack of a better word,” Giarratani told the Transcript. “I started this in 2018 and through the pandemic, through mayoral shifts, it’s still happening and there’s a huge hole in the ground and I’m just really proud of my city that it’s actually happening.”
Giarratani is a founder of Negative Space, LLC, a NYC-based production management company for public art campaigns.
“I operate behind the scenes for the artwork,” she said—“coordinating the vision.”
She added, “It’s a really interesting arts administrative role.” She said she works “really closely and collaboratively” with those involved in the project, including landscape designers and the visionaries behind the idea to put a memorial on the Boston Common.
Giarratani said she was happy to see “so many people come out in support of this project” at the groundbreaking last Wednesday.
“Just like seeing people from all industries show up, I think, is telling that this is a really important groundbreaking thing that’s happening—not only to put a monument in one of the oldest parks in the country, but to sort of talk about the racial history that we have and I know Boston can sort of gloss over some of the issues it’s had in the past,” she said. “This is sort of a show that they’re ready to actually commit and do the work.”
She praised King Boston for its work in “uplifting the Black community in Boston,” and said she looks forward to people interacting with the memorial, which is set to be officially unveiled on Martin Luther King, Jr. day next year.
She said she hopes the Embrace Memorial will become as important to the park as the Make Way for Ducklings statue has become.
“I’m hoping that it becomes part of the ecosystem of the park, and I’m excited to see people taking pictures underneath it and reading around it and just kind of adding to the backdrop.”
Giarratani said that construction will continue through December, when the piece is expected to be fully installed.
“I’m just super grateful,” she said.
At the groundbreaking, Rev. Mariama-White Hammond led a land acknowledgement, reminding those in attendance that the land that is now the Boston Common is the “traditional homelands of the Massachusett tribe.” She added, “we are so glad today to celebrate the legacies of the Kings and their love.”
Embrace designer Hank Willis Thomas thanked those who were involved in making this memorial possible, saying “this is an amazing amalgamation of so many people’s love for humanity; love for the possibility of what we can do and what can happen when we work together.”
Barry Gaither, a member of the art selection committee of King Boston, spoke about the selection process and why The Embrace was chosen as the winner.
“We came to the Embrace,” he said, “and it presented us with the great problem of ‘how do you express love in an intimate and global sense simultaneously?’ The Embrace represented that distillation of gesture.”
Governor Charlie Baker also made remarks, saying that “this is the sort of thing that requires everybody to embrace the notion that every day, if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving back.”
He continued, “and I really do hope this memorial and all it stands for, and the work that will be done by the center going forward, will be there as a constant reminder to all of us what’s left to be done and why it’s so important that it be done here in the Commonwealth and here in the City of Boston.”
Mayor Michelle Wu quoted Corretta Scott King in her remarks. “The birthday matriarch we are celebrating today said once, ‘the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate action of its members.’”
Wu continued, “What I love about this moment and what we are about to do, to break ground in a season of breaking fast, in a season of reminding each and every one of us of our place of belonging rooted in the greater community is that not only are we embracing our history, our role as a city in this partnership that changed the world forevermore between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King, our history in crating the spaces that would get passed down generation after generation, but also our role in signifying every single day that we embrace everyone who finds their way to Boston.”
She added, “this is a city that is a city for everyone.”
For more information about the memorial and about King Boston, visit kingboston.org, and for more information about Sam Giarratani’s company, visit https://negativespace.rocks.