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Artists submit ideas for Boston MLK memorial

Five ideas to remake part of the Boston Common to honor civil rights leader

Karen Morales
Artists submit ideas for Boston MLK memorial
The Embrace Photo: Courtesy

Five artist teams have submitted proposals for a new memorial on the Boston Common to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The proposed designs are currently under consideration by a local committee and city residents.

The privately funded non-profit organization MLK Boston, in partnership with the City of Boston, commissioned a permanent work of art last December for the Boston Common to commemorate the couple’s legacies.

MLK Boston held 14 community meetings from Oct. 2017 to April 2018 to hear feedback from residents on what the memorial should look like.

As a result of these meetings, the project vision was expanded from a single memorial site to three components: an outdoor memorial on the Boston Common; a dynamic program, headquartered in Roxbury and in partnership with leading local stakeholders, that oversees civic, educational and economic equity programming; and an endowment, in partnership with Twelfth Baptist Church, to educate and train nonviolent activists.

The five proposals are on display at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square and the Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury through Oct. 16. They can also be viewed online at MLKBoston.org.

Residents can submit feedback on the proposals while the MLK Boston art committee deliberates on the best design.

The art committee is co-chaired by Barry Gaither of the National Center for Afro-American Art and Karin Goodfellow, director of the Boston Art Commission, and includes Brandon Terry, MLK scholar and Harvard University professor; Cher Krause Knight, professor of art history at Emerson College; Danielle Legros Georges, Boston Poet Laureate; Ekua Holmes, local artist; and L’Merchie Frazier, director of education at the Museum of African American History.

According to Paul English, founder and co-chair of MLK Boston, the memorial is a $5 million project, funded by private donations.

“There’s many people in the City of Boston that have talked about doing something for him and Coretta for decades,” English told the Banner in a phone interview. But due to lack of funding, the project stalled, he said. 

English said the memorial will be unlike anything else on the Common.

“If you look at the designs, they are abstract and modern and immersive. It will bring new life to the Common and hopefully inspire new art as well,” he said.

The memorial is intended to educate Boston’s visitors and residents.

“Most people aren’t aware of the importance of Boston to the King story,” he said. “When they come and read the plaques, they’ll learn [Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King] started their life together and fell in love in Boston.”

The memorial will also educate park visitors about Coretta Scott King’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

“After King was assassinated 50 years ago, she continued his work for decades,” said English. “And her work expanded beyond his a little bit; she fought for gay rights issues in the ’70s that weren’t really on the table in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Avenue of Peace Photo: Courtesy

Avenue of Peace
Photo: Courtesy

The design proposals are as follows:

Avenue of Peace
by Yinka Shonibare and
Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects

Avenue of Peace is a memorial walkway, sculpture and fountain with 22 inscribed benches and a downloadable app. “Peace, the cornerstone of their values, is central to the design of this monument,” reads the proposal. 

Visitors will see information posts which will encourage them to download the app to listen to historical accounts of key moments in the couple’s life together, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to their visits to India where they met and studied with direct disciples of Gandhi.

Boston’s King Memorial
by Adam Pendleton, Adjaye Associates, Future\Pace
and David Reinfurt

Boston King Memorial Photo: Courtesy

Boston King Memorial
Photo: Courtesy

Boston’s King Memorial is inspired by King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” delivered in 1968 in support of the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. “As a metaphor, the mountaintop crystallizes a moment of possibility. It informs our proposed design for Boston’s King Memorial: an overlook in black stone, projecting out from Beacon Street to embrace and overlook the Common below,” reads the proposal.

The design is for a footbridge projecting out from Beacon Street, accompanied by a ramp leading down to the existing walking path. On an adjacent lawn, sloped stone sculptures engraved with the words of Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stand near public seating. An integrated digital platform for mobile devices provides annotated transcripts and audio of the speeches.

The Embrace
by Hank Willis Thomas
with MASS Design Group

The Embrace Photo: Courtesy

The Embrace
Photo: Courtesy

The Embrace is a 22-foot-high monument in mirror finish bronze depicting the embracing arms of the King couple, set on a plaza located between the Parkman Bandstand and the State House.

This design team aims to connect the Boston Common memorial to the proposed educational programming in Dudley Square.

“The path connecting the memorial and education space implores visitors who have experienced the emotion of The Embrace to travel to the neighborhood where King began his historic march on the Common and engage in the activism and hope the Kings embodied,” the proposal says.

Empty Pulpit Monument
by Barbara Chase-Riboud

Empty Pulpit Monument Photo: Courtesy

Empty Pulpit Monument
Photo: Courtesy

The Empty Pulpit Monument is a stone-and-bronze art piece featuring a truncated stone pyramid and a searchlight beacon that “represents their message from the top of the mountain they climbed together,” according to the proposal.

The empty pulpit symbolizes King’s silenced voice. Inside the monument’s passageway is engraved a historic lineage of the diaspora. The floor under the arch repeats the iconic “We shall overcome” slogan and on the back of the monument is engraved the quote, “I have decided to stick with LOVE, HATE is too great a burden to bear … .”

Surrounding the memorial will be a series of undulating landscaped “waves” and bronze plaques embedded in the green slopes, inscribed with the Kings’ famous quotes.

The Ripple Effects
by Wodiczko + Bonder/
Maryann Thompson Architects, with Walter Hood

The Ripple Effects is a multi-level design featuring two rising beacon towers, an amphitheater, a passageway leading to a “mound” where visitors can sit and reflect, and a raised footbridge leading from the memorial across the Common.

“Emanating from the Beacon Towers, in the surface texture of the memorial ground, are ripples that evoke the ‘ripple effect’ of the words, actions and leadership of The Kings,” reads the proposal.

The towers themselves symbolize the continuing presence of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King and their legacies, with embedded sounds of specially designed bells and light pulses intended to “inform the visitors on the current state of the emancipation process” in Boston and beyond.