Days before the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the City of Boston unveiled its new memorial, “The Embrace,” in the civil rights icon’s honor. The sculpture is modeled after a photo of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, hugging after he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
However, the concept of the unique sculpture has already drawn sharp criticism, even from members of the King family.
The bronze memorial is 20 feet long and 26 feet wide and reflects the arms and hands of King placed around his wife’s back as the two embrace. However, as reviews of the sculpture pour in, many express that they’re not impressed.
“I like the intention but not the sculpture,” one person commented on Instagram.
“It needs the source photo to give context: that’s a problem for me,” another person wrote.
Some of the harshest criticism came from members of the King family.
“It looks like a penis,” Seneca Scott, Coretta Scott King’s cousin, told the New York Post.
The controversial sculpture cost $10 million to build. Artist Hank Willis Thomas designed the sculpture, and its concept made it through “several levels of approval from multiple organizations” before coming to fruition, NBC reports.
Martin Luther King III also approved the piece, the New York Post added.
“No disrespect, but I don’t like it at all,” Francine Dowdy wrote on Facebook.
“Looks like Terminator II…and I will leave it at that,” another person replied.
British rapper Zuby said to his one million followers on Twitter, “This is awful.”
Despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction on social media, some thought leaders looked to the symbolism the monument represents.
“Mom had been involved in the peace movement even before dad,” Martin Luther King III said at the unveiling ceremony. “She actually led demonstrations, and they read a lot of the same books, so the magic really happened here,” he continued.
Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said the message of the sculpture is to “embrace equality over racism; to embrace peace over militarism; to embrace grace over greed; to embrace unity over division; to embrace racial economic, social justice over oppression; to embrace love over hate; to embrace one another,” GBH reported.
“The Embrace” is in the heart of the Boston Common, considered the oldest public park in the United States. The City of Boston is still reckoning with its unsavory reputation of being “America’s most racist city.” The moniker has been used as an occasional punch line on “Saturday Night Live” by comedian Michael Che.
Executive Director of Embrace Boston Imari Paris Jeffries said given Boston’s reputation, spotlighting the city’s Black history with Dr. King was all part of the monument’s purpose.
“Six million people visit Boston Common every year and to hear a Black love story about a family in Boston’s oldest park on the Freedom Trail is a new story American visitors will get to hear about our history,” Jeffries said on GBH Basic Black.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s ties to Boston run deep. He attended Boston University and earned his doctorate in theology in 1955. He met his wife in Boston while attending the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1965, King led 20,000 people in a protest against school segregation in the city.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas has produced other notable sculptures, including Brooklyn’s “Unity” sculpture which stands 22.5 feet tall near the Brooklyn Bridge. He also created the “Raise Up” monument in Montgomery, Alabama.
Thomas told NBC he sees The Embrace “as a call to action, a call to love.”
Although a few people praised Thomas’ efforts on “The Embrace” across social media, most comments call for a “redo” of his latest work.
“No offense and with all due respect, the artist missed the mark on this one #redo MLK deserves better,” an Instagram user wrote.