Today, there is much debate about the relevance of memorials in our country. They are often erected to withstand the test of time and to leave an indelible cultural marker for future generations. For many who control the narrative and the platforms for the recording of our history, memorials might be passé. For many whose cultural contributions have been rendered invisible, the debate about their relevance is liberating.
To me, the construction of The Embrace on Boston Common would be liberating, a catalyst for honoring the legacy of love demonstrated by the many unsung heroes and sheroes of the civil rights movement. Inspired by the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, the abstracted image specifically captures the moment when they embraced after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The image of the embrace—that of a community locked in arms—also reflects the conditions at many marches: in Selma, Alabama; on Washington, in Boston. It is an expression of radical love.
The Embrace reclaims the strength and tenacity of a demanding love in the public square. It creates a platform for conveying the persistence and faith of a people yearning to be free and their willingness to purchase that freedom for future generations with their lives. Its charisma is compelling. Its radiant aperture invites each of us in to reflect and recommit to the fight for justice—a fight that is fueled by our strength, together. In his 1967 address at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in Atlanta, “Where Do We Go from Here?” Dr. King eloquently instructed us on the depths of that love. “I’m concerned about a better world,” he said. “I’m concerned about justice . . . and I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the answer to mankind’s problems . . . I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love. I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I’ve seen too much hate.”
In a country that was birthed through violence, the Kings and countless leaders of the civil-rights movement demonstrated the unbending power of radical love through nonviolence. A love that drove many to sit at lunch counters to suffer the buffets of insults and acrimony. A love that drove a generation to reject the terror of Jim Crow in the South and boldly face the dogs and fire hoses of Bull Connor in Alabama and the paternalistic brand of de facto segregation in the North. A love that demanded America call on its better angels and reject its pernicious addiction to discrimination.
Every day, residents in Boston and across America are tapping into the power of that love to protect the ideals that make us uniquely American, fighting for economic justice and to protect our civil rights. A strong and demanding love comes with struggle, an idea perhaps best captured by this quote from Coretta Scott King: “Love is such a powerful force. It’s there for everyone to embrace—that kind of unconditional love for all of humankind. That is the kind of love that impels people to go into the community and try to change conditions for others, to take risks for what they believe in.” It represents that loving others means changing unjust conditions and systems—it’s the most radical commitment of social justice there is.
The memorial and the creation of a new King Center for Economic Justice seek to advance King’s proclamation that the last true fight is one for economic justice and a war on poverty. It invites its visitors to embrace and to act. It calls on the legacy of the Kings’ march in Boston and connects to the advancement of economic justice through its stronghold in Roxbury—both while holding on firmly to the core of the Kings’ philosophy and their unwavering commitment to nonviolence and the pursuit of justice. The Embrace renders our civil-rights heroes visible and invites us in.