Also see Abdullah Saeed's "The Islamic Case for Religious Liberty"
Media round-up of Martin Luther King Day events and history in NYC
Since it was first observed nationwide in January of 1986, the holiday commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has served as a reminder of his legacy to the causes of civil rights, nonviolent opposition and community service. Along with becoming a volunteer in NYC to help honor Dr. King's memory, there are plenty of Martin Luther King Day events to check out on the day itself over the weekend, including live-music tributes, museum exhibitions, readings and more.
When Studio Museum opened in 1968, it was the first black fine-arts museum in the country, and it remains the place to go for historical insight into African-American art and the art of the African diaspora. Under the leadership of director Thelma Golden (formerly of the Whitney), this neighborhood favorite has evolved into the city’s most exciting showcase for contemporary African-American artists.
WNYC and Apollo Theater celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with a panel discussion about the legacies of the civil rights leader and of the systemic racism he sought to erase. Brian Lehrer and Jami Floyd will lead the conversation, with performances by Daniel Bernard Roumain with Special Guests Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Emeline Michel.
Acclaimed cultural critic and author of April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Death and How It Changed America Michael Eric Dyson is the keynote speaker at BAM’s yearly celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Following the speech are performances by the The Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir and The Voice finalist Kimberly Nichole, as well as the community art exhibition “Picture the Dream” by NYCHA Atlantic Terminal Community Center students.
Formed in 1986, the Harlem Gospel Choir has an impressive crossover résumé, having worked with U2 (on Rattle and Hum), Diana Ross and Jimmy Cliff. The group’s performances are exuberant, to say the least, as you'd expect from its slogan: "Get your dose of the Holy Ghost."
Meet die-hard reenactors of the 26th United States Colored Troops, a platoon of NY-based African American Civil War soldiers. The troops will be on hand to show off their weaponry and share tales of wartime heroism in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.
Learn about New York’s links to the civil-rights movement on a special edition of Big Onion’s Historic Harlem Walking Tour. Notable stops along the two-hour trek include the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; the NYC headquarters of the NAACP; and the Harlem Hospital Center, where the reverend was treated in 1958 after being stabbed with a letter opener in a bookstore.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Blumstein’s Department Store (1958)
Blumstein Department Store on 125th Street. Image via MCNY
In 1958, King traveled to New York to promote his new book about the Montgomery bus boycott, Stride Towards Freedom: The Montgomery Story. The politics of his visit were messy, not only was Harlem in the midst of a competitive election, but King was met coolly by the NAACP, who now competed with him for donor dollars and found his civil disobedience strategy undignified. (Thurgood Marshall called him “a first-rate rabble rouser.”) Optics were further complicated when King’s people turned down a book signing at a store run by a black nationalist in favor of an upscale white department store, Blumstein’s.
On September 21, at Blumstein’s book signing, a mentally unstable woman stabbed King in the chest with a letter opener, lodging it between his heart and his lungs. King was rushed to Harlem Hospital and underwent a successful operation. It took him several weeks to recover at the hospital and then in Brooklyn, the operation leaving a cross-shaped scar on King’s chest, which he’d later point to with pride.
Dr. King Leaving Harlem Hospital. Screenshot via Harlem Hospital video.
Rev.Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NYS Civil War Centennial Commission (1962)
MLK with Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, and Governor Nelson
Rockefeller. Image via NY State Archives
King was invited by the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission to deliver a keynote commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, an event organized by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. King expressed hesitation at participating, concerned that appearing at a Republican-led event would offend President Kennedy and hurt the progress of civil rights legislation, but Rockefeller sealed the deal by pledging funds to rebuild several African-American churches that had been burned in Georgia. On September 12, 1962, at the Park-Sheraton Hotel (now Park Central), King offered a blistering assessment of America’s lack of progress in advancing equal rights for blacks. The “Proclamation of Inferiority,” he claimed, “has contended with the Proclamation of Emancipation, negating its liberating force.”
The Museum’s video accompanying the speech audio features a scrolling written copy that makes it easier to follow along, including notes where King made late alterations to his prepared remarks.
Mayor Wagner Honors King with Medallion (1964)
Image via NYC Municipal Archives
In 1964 King was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize, and New York City offered its congratulations. On December 17, 1964, King was was honored with the City of New York Medallion of Honor at an event in the City Council chambers at City Hall. Not only were the City’s religious leaders on hand, but the national anthem was played by the Department of Sanitation Band! In bestowing King with the Medallion, Mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. offered, “This is not your city of residence, Dr. King, but it is your city nevertheless… We claim you, henceforth, as an honorary New Yorker.” During Wagner’s three terms he generally demonstrated a strong commitment to civil rights, but during the past year he had been struggling with demonstrations related to school integration, and he would not run for re-election the following year.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church (1967)
Photo by John C. Goodwin
On April 4, 1967, King delivered “Beyond Vietnam” at the Riverside Church on 121st Street. A criticism of the war in Vietnam, the speech linked critiques of U.S. foreign and domestic policies. King laments, “We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”
During his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama frequently cited the “fierce urgency of now,” a phrase King employs during this speech. Meanwhile The New York Times blasted King in an editorial named “Dr. King’s Error.” LBJ fumed at MLK’s “betrayal” on Vietnam, and severed a relationship that, contrary to its presentation in the movie Selma, had previously been one of significant cooperation and amicability. Eerily, King’s sermon at Riverside took place exactly a year before he was killed.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Carnegie Hall (1968)
Photo by Jim Hinton from Norma Rogers/ Carnegie Hall Archives
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? For Dr. King, it was the 100th Birthday of W.E.B. Du Bois, a pioneer in the African-American community. The event, held on February 23, 1968, was King’s last address in New York and one of his final public speeches. As befitting the occasion, the speech is largely a glowing tribute to Du Bois, with King crediting the ease with which he moved through both the highest levels of academic achievement and gritty, on the ground organizing.
New York City Namesakes for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Martin Luther King Jr. High School complex. Image via Wikipedia
New York City has shown its appreciation and admiration for King in the 47 years since his death. Probably the most well-known King namesake in the City was the Martin Luther King, Jr. High School by Lincoln Center, across from LaGuardia High School. The Bloomberg administration closed the school and reopened it as seven schools in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Campus, as they were wont to do. Other City landmarks that bear King’s name include the Martin Luther King, Jr. Towers, a NYCHA complex in East Harlem that houses over 3,000 residents, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Health Center and Martin Luther King Triangle park space in the Bronx, and Manhattan’s 125th Street, which is co-named Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, one of 730 American streets named for King.
For more MLK and NYC see Untapped Cities.