The nonprofit King Boston on Wednesday broke ground on the Boston Common for an imposing new memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Helping to ceremonially start digging into what was called "hallowed ground" were Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston City Mayor Michelle Wu and Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, the first Black woman to hold that job.

The planned sculpture will be a celebration of the civil rights movement as well as the Kings' love for each other, located in the city where the couple first met in the early 1950s. At that time, she was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music and he was a graduate student in Theology at Boston University. The 20 foot-high, multi-ton bronze sculpture of the Kings' four intertwined arms — called The Embrace — is inspired by a photo of them embracing when Martin Luther King Jr. learned he had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, the first Haitian American to hold state office in the United States, highlighted that the groundbreaking fell on what would have been Coretta Scott King’s 95th birthday.

“This is so wonderful that we're celebrating on the birthday of this woman, this woman who really taught us about love,” St. Fleur said, “love for her husband, love for her family, love for community, the kind of love that we don't talk about anymore. Love that requires sacrifice … love that requires to put some work into it. … And we must continue to push that flame forward. And this embrace is going to remind us of that.”

The Embrace will be one of the country’s largest memorials dedicated to racial equity when installation is complete in October, and the first new memorial on Boston Common in over a century, according to King Boston, the nonprofit formed to fund and erect the $9.5 million sculpture.

A line of people hold golden shovels next to a large pile of dirt.
Various elected officials and dignitaries participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for the Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King memorial on the Boston Common on April 27, 2022.
Meredith Nierman GBH News

King Boston is also forming its own Center for Economic Justice, which will research and evaluate policies that address racial equity in such areas as wealth, housing and public education. The center is looking to apply that research to proposals for reparations for slavery and ongoing discrimination.

“We can’t forget about action," said local philanthropist Demond Martin.

“If we simply celebrate the symbol and don't do a better job of feeding the hungry, providing enhanced education and economic opportunities for Black and brown people, then we fail. We fail at the very thing that Dr. King and Mrs. King strived for, they worked for, and Dr. King died for," he contrinued. "We stand here and acknowledge the sad and ugly past that this very city tolerated, while at the same time we look for the future that is so bright, striving for a community that that has love and respect for all people, regardless of race, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

Rollins acknowledged the attempts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to undermine and discredit Martin Luther King Jr. in the last years of his life, under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover.

“But this is about change and possibility,” she said, “and I am so proud to be standing here as the face of the federal government today in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, honoring Black love in this beautiful embrace.”

Annette Holland, 82, of Hyde Park, said she saw Martin Luther King Jr. speak when she was 15 years old, growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She came to the groundbreaking ceremony “to be a part of history.”

“And I'm so proud. I wish they could put it up in every city and town, this embrace," she said.