Soon, Boston Common will be a place of reflection where people from across the country can gather to contemplate justice, peace, and the continuing struggle for racial equality.
“It's going to be a beacon,” said Michael Murphy, whose firm MASS Design Group is designing the memorial honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At its center, the memorial will feature The Embrace, a 22-foot bronze structure designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas. "It's going to be a real destination, not just for Bostonians, but for the nation.”
As visitors enter Boston Common, they will see the bustle of Tremont Street reflected in the sculpture, and look up to see sun beaming down through the trees, splashing light and shadows across its enfolded hands. The Embrace was inspired by the photos of Martin and Coretta Scott King hugging each other after King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, their embrace becoming a symbol of love as a tool to fight injustice.
Murphy, Founding Principal and Executive Director of MASS Design Group, joined Jared Bowen on Open Studio this week to talk about Justice Is Beauty, the firm's first monograph, which documents its philosophy for design: that architecture can promote justice and human dignity. His conversation with Bowen was the first time Murphy had shared about the forthcoming memorial’s design.
The city of Boston is a fitting symbolic home for a King memorial: it’s the city where Martin and Coretta first met and spent their formative educational years, as well as the homeplace of James Reeb, who was killed by white supremicists in Selma in 1965, and ministered at the Unitarian Universalist church across the street from the Common. The plaza will also be a memorial to the 1965 Freedom March that King led with Ralph Abernathy and other Boston civic leaders, which brought 22,000 people to the Common. “This is hallowed ground,” Murphy said.
Murphy hopes that observers will leave the memorial thinking about “all of those unsung heroes that have fought for social and economic justice for decades and often don't get recognized," he said. "And here we have a chance to say, ‘they hold us up,’ and we can give them reverence and give them space.”
The memorial is just the “tip of the spear” in the city’s push for celebrating civil rights heroes and creating space to address historical injustice, according to Murphy. The non-profit King Boston is working to raise the remaining funds for the memorial, and pushing a new effort to build a center for economic justice in Roxbury's Nubian Square that pays tribute to King’s fight against economic inequity.
Murphy expects the King memorial to be completed in a year and a half, with the goal of opening in early 2022.
Watch: Murphy Previews Boston Common King Memorial For First Time
Watch Murphy's complete interview with Bowen on the latest Open Studio With Jared Bowen on Friday at 8:30pm on GBH2 and right here at GBH.org.