MLK Memorial Turns Me Off

MLK Memorial Turns Me Off

© David Burton 2023

The Embrace

     It’s a matter of perspective.
     The Embrace, the Martin Luther King Jr. monument on the Boston Common is taking flak both for the purportedly pornographic appearance some angles give it and some of the aesthetic choices that went into its creation.[1]

     Just about everyone agrees that The Embrace is a striking statue. BUT . . .

     On Friday, 14 January 2023 he city’s “elite” gathered in a gated area for only invited guests for the revealing of “The Embrace” statue. The statue that was supposed to symbolize an embrace between Dr. King and Mrs. King was nothing more than two arms detached from a body.
     Depending on the angle, the statue appeared to be feces, sexual innuendo, or a “woke penis,” as described by the New York Post. The Embrace Statue is an utter insult to the honor and legacy of the Kings, an embarrassment to the city of Boston, and an aesthetically unpleasant addition to the country’s oldest park.[2]

     The $10 million creation from the nonprofit Embrace Boston is based on a 1964 photo that shows the couple delightedly hugging after MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize that year. The nonprofit chose this, artist Hank Willis Thomas’ submission. His submission included only the couple’s arms and hands, plus a patio around it that displays the names of 65 locals who fought for civil rights. Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III, then approved it.
     The creation was unveiled with much aplomb and in front of a cheering, fenced-off crowd, a couple of days before the national holiday honoring the famed Black civil rights leader. Some people loved it. Boston dignitaries, who met in the Hub, hailed it and its subjects, with soaring speeches.
     But then a video tweeted out by a TV reporter of a particularly unfortunate angle of the tarp coming off captured the raunchy imaginations of America, and a few different shots from other angles provided assorted other material for some guffaws.
     To some observers, the big statue, looked like a couple of different sex acts.
     In the online magazine Compact, Seneca Scott, a union organizer and reportedly a cousin of Coretta Scott King, panned the statue as “racist and classist.”
     “The new Boston sculpture ‘honoring’ Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, looks more like a pair of hands hugging a beefy penis than a special moment shared by the iconic couple,” Scott wrote in the magazine.
     Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah slammed the statue for dehumanizing the couple by not including their countenances in what she viewed as a whitewashing of the famed Black civil-rights leader’s legacy and reality.
     “It doesn’t sit well with me that Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King are reduced to body parts - just their arms. Not their faces - their expressions,” she tweeted. “In making MLK a whitewashed symbol of love, the Embrace statue is both safe AND grotesque. Says little about the man, a lot about America.”
     “And yes, I’ll say it. From another angle, the statue for real looks like one person is performing disembodied oral sex,” she added, giving voice to the most popular off-color interpretation of a different angle of the statue and she continued on to say that she doubted that that’s what MLK would want people thinking about on his birthday.
     Closer to home, Boston radio host, Notorious VOG - real name Paul Parara, told the Boston Herald, “It reinforces a lived perception that Black faces aren’t seen in Boston but used as props to further other agendas and conversations.”
     Of course, opinions on art are highly varied, and the sculpture garnered some positive reviews for its aesthetics and its approach.
     Hank Willis Thomas, the artist, wrote on his website that, “By highlighting the act of embrace, this sculpture shifts the emphasis from a singular hero worship to collective action, imploring those curious enough to investigate closer.”[1]

     Like many Bostonians and residents of nearby cities and towns, I’ve spent a good amount of time on the Boston Common, America’s oldest park. There are several impressive memorials and statues on the Boston Common, but two of them really stand out.
     The Equestrian Statue of George Washington, being the first, is thought to be one of the most famous. Mounted on a horse and assuming a dominating stance like he would on the battlefield, Washington is depicted in his element.
     The second is the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Monument, which honors one of the most well-known African American Civil War regiments and shows Col. Robert G. Shaw leading his gallant soldiers into combat. Both of these statues have a special place in our history as a nation and a city.
     So, what could be better than two? Three!
     To honor two extraordinary people who have made significant contributions not only to Boston and the United States, but also to the entire world. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King have become Boston’s adopted son and daughter.
     Their love story began in Boston in 1952, while Dr. King was earning his Ph.D. in theology at Boston University. The young couple even went on a date on Boston Common.
     There are statues of Dr. King all around the country, but it is incredibly rare to locate one with both Kings together. The only one that exists is in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
     The Boston Common’s illustrious history and Boston’s popularity as a tourist destination made this opportunity to honor the Kings that much more fitting. Furthermore, this statue will represent how far Boston has evolved in the last 50 years from a racist city to a world-class city inclusive of all people, reflecting Dr. King’s dream.
     This spectacular failure has been the subject of countless jokes around the country. However, most Black Bostonians are not laughing; they are outraged, dissatisfied, and upset that this opportunity was squandered.
     We don’t see any statues depicting the severed arm of General George Washington brandishing a sword. So, why should we see statues of our African American heroes mutilated in this fashion?[2]

  1. ‘The Embrace’ Martin Luther King Jr. Boston memorial causes a stir, Sean Philip Cotter,
    Boston Herald: Pges 10-11, 17 January 2023.
  2. No Common ground in ‘Embrace’, Rasheed Walters, Boston Herald: Pge 8, 17 January 2023.


  23 March 2023 {ARTICLE 568; UNDECIDED_75}    
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