The nonprofit MLK Boston has selected five final designs for a public memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King. The couple met in Boston, where the civil rights leader earned his doctorate from Boston University and preached at a Roxbury church.
Eventually, one design will be chosen for a memorial on Boston Common. The final designs are on display at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square and at the Bolling Building in Roxbury’s Dudley Square for public inspection and input.
WGBH News spoke to people mulling over the designs at the Bolling Building, where the Boston Public Schools' headquarters is located.
Herb Lozano of Boston picked a favorite right away. “I like The Embrace by Hank Willis Thomas and the MASS Design Group,” he said, referring to a bronze sculpture of the Kings' interlocking arms.
When asked what struck him about that design, Lozano replied, “Of course, the vibrancy of the material that they used, but also the sculpture of the hands that represents the embrace.” He added, “I think that's really relevant in today.”
Carol Kirkland-Small of Mattapan liked the design called the Avenue of Peace, which features a 30-foot mosaic rising from an oval pool.
“This is the one that really touched me with a voice of love, non-violence and fellowship but community as well,” Kirkland-Small said.
The other three designs are called The Ripple Effects by Wodiczko + Bonder and Maryann Thompson Architects, a glass walkway with twin towers that emit light and sound; the Empty Pulpit Monument by Barbara Chase-Riboud with Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, a stone and bronze sculpture topped with a searchlight; and Boston's King Memorial by David Adjaye and Adam Pendleton with FuturePace, a black stone bridge on Boston Common near the State House.
Already, there are several memorials to prominent African Americans in the city. They include poet Phyllis Wheatley, former Celtics player Bill Russell, the Massachusetts 54th Regiment from the Civil War and abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Unlike those statues, the final proposals for the MLK memorial are abstract.
WGBH News asked Robert Dibbles of Roxbury, who was looking at the designs, how he felt about not seeing any statues of the Kings. He said he was pleased with all of the designs, “for the simple fact that it’s still about him,” Dibbles said, referring to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Barry Gaither directs the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury and helped select the finalists. Gaither said he believes King's legacy and his message of economic justice and peace are bigger than a statue.
“We also were very open to ways of thinking about the meaning of the Kings and symbolic and conceptual frames that are of themselves bigger than image,” he said.
Whichever is the final design, Gaither predicted the project will move the needle around race discussions in Boston.
“I think it will empower a new and bigger discussion around race,” he said. “There is an enormous untold story that fundamentally is involved in justice.”
Gaither said the goal isn’t just to inspire people to think but also to act. The memorial will be built on the Boston Common, but plans include an institute that will be part of the Boston Public Library branch in Roxbury, near where King preached at Twelfth Baptist Church.
“There is an opportunity to convert the lessons that will focus on social struggle and activism,” he explained.
MLK Boston hopes to pick a finalist by the end of the year. MLK Boston has raised $3.6 million toward an initial $5 million goal for the memorial although organizers expect construction costs could be higher. They project the Roxbury institute will cost at least another $5 million. Paul English, Founder and Co-Chair of MLK Boston, said a total of $15 million may be needed for the memorial and institute.
This post has been updated to include more information about MLK Boston's fundraising efforts.