Statue of Martin Luther King Jr. in Boston draws mockery and scorn online

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The road to online mockery is paved with good intentions.

On Friday, a collection of civic organizations unveiled a 22-foot-tall bronze statue on Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park, honoring the relationship between the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Sculptor Hank Willis Thomas found inspiration in a photograph of civil rights pioneers embracing after King learned he had won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

“This work is really about the capacity of each of us to be embraced by love, and I feel embraced by love every time I hear the names and see the faces of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King,” Thomas told the Boston Globe.

His work depicts four intertwined arms. From one angle, the limbs form a heart, representing the couple’s love. But as much as Chicago’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture quickly became known as “The Bean” for looking like, well, a giant bean, legions of amateur art critics aren’t seeing what Thomas intended.

Many had a particular problem with the fact that the kings were not fully portrayed.

“Given that I am not white, I am safe from ANY accusations of racism for saying the MLK hug statue is aesthetically displeasing. The famous photo was supposed to be a COMPLETE statue of the couple and their embrace. What a great balance and longing to honor Dr. & Mrs. King. SAD!” tweeted Boston Herald columnist Rasheed N. Walters.

“Show me a white man who was honored with a statue of just two of his limbs”, tweeted comedian Javann Jones.

“That MLK statue looks lewd from certain angles, but when you see the whole thing, you realize it was supposed to represent the result of Martin Luther King Jr. and [Coretta] Scott King having gone through the teleporter in The Fly together”, tweeted Frank J. Fleming of the Daily Wire.

Many others, though, told more vulgar jokes about what they saw as a provocative montage of hard-to-identify body parts.

Coretta King’s cousin, Seneca Scott, criticized the artwork in an essay for the online newspaper Compact, which he titled “A masturbatory ‘homage’ to my family”. “To my family it is an insult,” he wrote, adding that the “sculpture is an especially egregious example of the callousness and vanity of the waking machine” which to him seemed an especially expensive but empty gesture.

“Ten million dollars were wasted to create a masturbatory metal tribute to members of my legendary family – one of the greatest American families of all time. … How could anyone fail to see that this … brings very few, if any, tangible benefits to struggling Black families? Scott wrote.

The piece, of course, was commissioned and sculpted with good intentions. The city launched an appeal to artists in 2017 to create a memorial to the Kings, who first met in Boston, ultimately choosing Thomas, a renowned Brooklyn artist.

On Friday, it was revealed at an invitation-only ceremony at the same venue that King led 20,000 people in a freedom march more than 50 years ago.

Mayor Michelle Wu said the sculpture can help the public live up to King’s vision, “open our eyes to the injustice of racism and bring more people into the movement for equality,” according to the Boston Globe.

“Coretta Scott King’s recognition shows that we are a city that will take on the full legacy of kings and challenge injustice everywhere from a place of love,” Wu said in a statement. “As we continue our work to ensure Boston is a city for everyone, this memorial is a powerful call to embrace each other more, embrace our nation’s history, and embrace what is possible when we center community.”

“I hope people who experience ‘The Embrace’ understand or surpass the power of connection to improve our lives,” Thomas told the paper, adding: “I am excited about building markers that can direct us towards non-violent coexistence and us allow us to tell new stories about our history, our present, our future.”


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