Martin and Coretta: A love story

A tribute to the couple’s love – for each other and for humanity – has arisen on Boston Common in the form of a 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture. 

Herman Hiller/World Telegram & Sun/Library of Congress
Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, seen here in 1964, were partners both in marriage and in their activism.

It started with a blind date.

It was 1952, and young Coretta Scott was in her second semester at the New England Conservatory in Boston. While many female peers saw postsecondary education as a place to find a husband, Coretta was devoted to her singing and not particularly looking for romance. Nevertheless, a not-so-subtle nudge from a good friend had spurred her to give a shot to a young fellow named Martin Luther King Jr. 

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. “He was too short and he didn’t look that impressive,” she recalls in her memoir, “Coretta: My Love, My Life, My Legacy.” But the substance of the conversation changed her view. “The longer we talked, the taller he grew in stature and the more mature he became in my eyes.”

The feeling must have been mutual, because by the end of that first date he told her, “You have everything I have ever wanted in a wife.” The two were married a year and four months later. The couple remained devoted to each other, despite rumors of his infidelity.

Some 70 years later, a tribute to the couple’s love – for each other and for humanity – was unveiled on Boston Common in the form of a 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture. “The Embrace” was inspired by a photograph of the famed couple hugging after Martin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Unlike most MLK memorials, this newest sculpture honors both the man and the woman as pillars of the American civil rights movement. Both Kings “are monumental examples of the capacity of love to shape society,” artist Hank Willis Thomas explained after his design was chosen for permanent installation.

Indeed, love was a sustaining current throughout the Kings’ lives and work. In their eyes, it was the most powerful tool the movement had to find justice for Black America. “Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love,” Martin famously told hundreds gathered at Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on the eve of the Montgomery bus boycotts. 

“The way to be integrated with yourself is to be sure that you meet every situation of life with an abounding love,” Martin preached in an early sermon titled “Loving Your Enemies. “There is something about love that builds you up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

Coretta held fast to that ideal. 

When her husband was assassinated in 1968, their 12-year-old daughter, Yolanda, asked, “Mommy, should I hate the man who killed my daddy?”

“No, darling,” Coretta told her oldest child. “Your daddy wouldn’t want you to do that.”

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