Black student leaders react to “The Embrace”
Updated: Mar 31
On Jan. 13, the City of Boston unveiled a new monument in Boston Common to honor the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. The sculpture commemorates a photo captured in 1964 of King embracing his wife after receiving a Nobel Peace Prize.
The sculptor, Hank Willis Thomas, is an American conceptual artist whose design was selected and funded by Embrace Boston in 2017. Thomas’ design for “The Embrace” was chosen over 125 alternatives, and now rests in front of the Freedom Plaza in the outskirts of the Boston Common.
However, many were unhappy with some creative decisions made by Thomas, expressing the exclusion of the couple’s heads created an ambiguous look to the sculpture that undermined its true meaning. Some went as far as saying the sculpture looked inappropriate from certain angles
CNN and the New York Times are a few of the sources that reported the criticism, including comments from Seneca Scott, a community organizer in Oakland, California, and Scott King’s cousin, who told CNN the monument was ‘insulting to his family.’
On campus, student leaders in clubs and organizations like Black Student Association (BSA) and Multicultural Student Union (MSU), spoke about their initial reactions and what the monument means to them.
Egypt Garland, President of MSU, said she first saw the monument on social media but its importance was not highlighted. “When I first saw the sculpture, I witnessed it on social media as a joke in the sense that it looked like something inappropriate…out of all things you could have symbolized the two people you decided to make something that looked kind of like oddly shaped,” Garland said.
Lynn Hilton, President of BSA agreed. “At first, I thought it was a mockery because I was confused by the statue itself in the shape and form of why the sculptor chose that,” Hilton said. “I can't explain it, it just didn't correlate that that story was going to then be the love and embrace of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott.”
While the sculpture has received backlash, Garland appreciates the meaning behind wanting to represent this time in history. “That was definitely a rough time in life and the fact that they want to celebrate it is pretty beneficial to me,” Garland said. Despite this, Garland wishes Thomas “paid a lot more attention to what they could have been doing and benefitting and listening to the people and what they want the sculpture to look like.”
However, when it comes to diversity in the city as a whole, the sculpture is only a small piece of a much larger puzzle. While having monuments to appreciate black stories is important, Hilton emphasized the importance of having other resources in place to serve the same purpose. “Not everyone has the opportunity to come visit a statue or have public knowledge to the internet to read the stories that we have, and so I think it's important that we start in our education system, and really teach children about who Martin Luther King Jr. was and not a whitewashed interpretation, but rather what the statue is trying to encapsulate,” Hilton said.