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‘I see love and strength:’ King family delivers powerful speeches as Embrace memorial honoring MLK is unveiled

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Count 14-year-old Yolanda Renee King as a big fan of the new “The Embrace” memorial on the Common, honoring her grandparents Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

“I love this monument,” she said. “I see the love and strength and unity in these hands and how they symbolize a beautiful marriage and partnership. It was one that changed the world.”

At long last, the 20-foot tall, 40-foot wide monument — five years in the making — was officially unveiled Friday during a two-hour ceremony near the common’s 1965 Freedom Rally Plaza, the site of the memorial.

More than 1,000 people — many local and state officials, representatives and community activists and leaders — attended the celebration that featured songs and speeches, including powerful remarks from the King family.

The $10 million bronze sculpture, designed by Mass Design Group and American conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, depicts a photo of the couple hugging after MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

While earning his Ph.D. at Boston University, MLK met Coretta Scott King, a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston in the early 1950s. They returned for one of Boston’s first freedom marches from Roxbury to Boston Common, held April 23, 1965.

Martin Luther King III recalled his parents’ love for Boston and how many prominent figures in the abolition and civil rights movements called the city home at some point in their lives. The memorial honors 65 local leaders chosen by the community who paved the way for Civil Rights through the 1950s to the 1970s.

“Whenever I’ve come to Boston in the past I’ve always felt a powerful bond of solidarity with this first great American city,” Martin Luther King III said. “Of course, it is the city where my parents met, fell in love and decided to create a family, and in a way, I owe my very existence to Boston.”

While MLK gets recognized with a federal holiday, one that is often celebrated by community service endeavors, many of the dignitaries who delivered speeches said it’s essential to remember the life and contributions of Coretta Scott King.

After MLK’s assassination in 1968, she fought for years to make a national holiday to honor her late husband. Her efforts proved successful in 1986 when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was made a federal holiday.

Martin Luther King III’s wife Arndrea Waters King read an excerpt from MLK’s “Stride Toward Freedom,” a memoir he wrote following the Montgomery bus boycott. The writing highlighted how Coretta Scott King served as an immense support system. “In the darkest moments, she always brought the hope of life,” King wrote.

“Those hands,” Arndrea Waters King said, “the way they clasp and hold onto each other is just a remarkable statement of mutual love and solidarity.”

Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of the statue’s founding group Embrace Boston, oversaw the creation of the monument.

Though the memorial is officially complete, Paris Jeffries said his group’s work will continue. Embrace Boston will be helping develop a project that will bring a 31,000-square-foot town square — the Embrace Center — to Roxbury, extending Nubian Square to the Ruggles MBTA stop.

“Part of our spatial justice strategy, we believe that creating new spaces is what’s necessary to reform radically inclusive Boston by 2030,” Paris Jeffries said.

Jessica Bolt, former principal at the grade K-8 King School in Dorchester, arrived well in advance of the ceremony, standing outside of a fence that blocked off access to the memorial to the general public. The fencing is expected to be taken down by early February.

“It’s very important for the kids to come see something beautiful like this, something beautiful in the Boston Common,” Bolt said. “What I like about it is you can stand in the middle of it and look up to the heavens.”

Yolanda Renee King never met her grandparents, but she said she’s studied their writings, listened to tapes of them speaking and watched videos of them in action. She views the monument as a ‘Love 360’ since it is dedicated to their love, and more love is needed in the world.

“I feel like that they are somehow with me, that our spirits are joined in the quest of a just, loving and peaceful world,” she said. “I am very proud to be their granddaughter, but I am also challenged by their inspiring legacies of vision, courage, hope and healing, but I know I am not alone. There is a sense we are all children and grandchildren of Martin and Coretta Scott King.”

BOSTON, MA - January 13: Tito Jackson hugs Segun Idow of the mayors office during the unveiling of Embrace Memorial Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common on January 13, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Tito Jackson hugs Segun Idow of the mayors office during the unveiling of Embrace Memorial Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA - January 13: Hank Willis Thomas, the artist of the Embrace Memorial, holds his four year old daughter Zenzele Thomas in front of the the memorial honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common on January 13, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Hank Willis Thomas, the artist of “The Embrace” memorial, holds his 4-year-old daughter Zenzele Thomas in front of the bronze sculpture honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common yesterday. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA - January 13: Children watch the unveiling of Embrace Memorial Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King through a fence at the Boston Common on January 13, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Children watch the unveiling of “The Embrace” through a fence at the Common. Matt Stone/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA - January 13: A woman takes a group picture during the unveiling of Embrace Memorial honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common on January 13, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
A woman takes a group picture of some of the assembled guests during the unveiling. It as a day to remember. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA - January 13: Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of the Embrace Memorial speaks during the unveiling of Embrace Memoria, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common on January 13, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of the Embrace Memorial, speaks during the unveiling. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA - January 13: Bec Rollins takes a selfie in front of Embrace Memorial, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common on January 13, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA – January 13: Bec Rollins takes a selfie in front of Embrace Memorial, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Boston Common on January 13, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

 

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