Mayor Robert F. Wagner shakes hands with Loretta Scott King. Photo via Library of Congress
On January 18, we will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Signed into law in January, 1983 by President Ronald Regan, this is a day we recognize the enormous contributions of Dr. King. It is also a day to reflect on how his contributions have helped to reshape our country, and a look back on his time in New York City.
Dr. King traveled to New York in 1958 to promote his book Stride Towards Freedom: The Montgomery Story, with a book signing at Harlem’s Blumenstein Department Store. This event was interrupted when a mentally unstable woman stabbed him. He was rushed to Harlem Hospital and underwent a successful operation. Dr. King returned to New York in 1963, by invitation of City College of New York President Buell Gallagher, who invited Dr. King to speak at the college’s commencement. At the time, Dr. King was buoyed by President Kennedy’s announcement that he would propose civil rights legislation in Congress. However the day of the commencement was met with tragedy, when Dr. King learned of the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi. He moved forward in what came to be a historic speech at the university on 136th Street, with a heavy heart.
In 1964, Dr. King was given the City of New York Medallion of Honor at an event at City Hall. At this event, Mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. spoke these words, “This is not your city of residence, Dr. King, but it is your city nevertheless….We claim you, henceforth, as an honorary New Yorker.” New York will begin the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this weekend, with activities leading up to his birthday on Monday.
Here are 10 ways you can celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this year in New York City:
10. Artists Influenced by Black Culture at The Studio Museum in Harlem
Black Wall Street, 2008. Artist Noah Davis
What better place to start our weekend than at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Founded in 1968, the museum supports the works of artists of African descent with a variety of programs including talks, tours, performances, educational programing for toddlers and seniors, and revolving exhibits in their large, open gallery spaces. The museum currently has more than five exhibits on view, including Black: Color, Material, Concept (above painting), which is a group exhibit that explores the ways artists of African descent use the ethnicity “black” in their choices of media, imagery and the ideas used in the creation of their work. Black: Color, Material, Concept will be on view through March 6.
Mother and Child, 1993. Artist Elizabeth Catlett
A Constellation is a group exhibit of twenty-six artists of African descent, tracing connections and exploring themes of the history of the African Diaspora. The impressive group of artists include Elizabeth Catlett (above) and Faith Ringgold. A Constellation will be on view through March 6.
Girlfriends Times Two. Artist Lorraine O’Grady
The exhibit Art Is…. follows artist and cultural critic Lorraine O’Grady as she enters her own float in the 1983 African-American Day Parade in Harlem. With the words “Art Is…” on the float’s decorative skirt, O’Grady turned the parade onlookers into participants in an effort to have them see themselves as works of art. The forty images on view capture not only her creative endeavor, but give viewers a look at the annual September event held on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard, known as the African-American Day Parade. And remember, thanks to Target, Sundays are Free. The Studio Museum in Harlem is located at 144 West 125th Street.