Mayor Robert F. Wagner shakes hands with Loretta Scott King. Photo from 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
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.
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.
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.
9. The 4th Annual Black Comic Book Festival at The Schaumburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The Schaumburg Center for Research in Black Culture will once again host the 4th annual Black Comic Book Festival. In a celebration of black comic’s, this is a full day event on Saturday, January 16 and will include exhibition tables, workshops and film screenings of Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness and Images in Action: Creating Socially Conscious Comics. Check the calendar of events for times, which also include Alex Simmons Kids Comics Workshop. The Black Comic Book Festival will run from 10 am to 7 pm and will be located at The Schaumburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Avenue) right at the #2/3 subway station at 135th Street. This is a Free event. While you’re there, take a look at the WPA murals that grace the front of Harlem Hospital directly across the street.
8. WNYC and The Apollo Theater Explore Race and Privilege in an Uptown Hall Series
WNYC and The Apollo Theater present “Race and Privilege: Exploring MLK’s Two Americas” as part of the Uptown Hall Series. Co-hosting the event are Brian Lehrer and Jami Floyd, along with a Pulitzer Prize-winning panel. The event will take place on Sunday, January 17 at 3 pm. In keeping with Dr. King’s agenda, there will be interviews, media presentations and a series of panels on the topic of institutional racism and fighting prejudice on all levels. The Apollo Theater is located at 253 West 125th Street. The event is Free, however RSVP is required.
7. 30th Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at BAM
For the 30th year, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) will host a huge celebration of the civil rights leader. The main event features prominent intellectuals, and radio host Michael Eric Dyson, with musical performances by Kimberly Nichole and The Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir. This event will be held on Monday, January 18. Tickets will be distributed on a first come-first seated basis, starting at 8 am in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House lobby. T
here will also be related events, including a community art exhibit on view from January 15-18, and The Black Panthers: Vanguard of Revolution, presented by documentarian Stanley Nelson. BAM is located at 30 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.
6. Tour the First Known Community of African-American Homeowners – Seneca Village
Did you know that the first community of African-American property owners was located from 81st Street to 89th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in what is now Central Park? Beginning in 1825, parcels of land were sold to members of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and within a few years, the community developed into a settlement of over 250 people. By the 1850s, approximately 1,600 people lived on the 843 acre tract of land known as Seneca Village until the land was acquired in 1856 to create the major public park we know as Central Park. The Central Park Conservancy will be conducting a tour of the historic area on Monday, January 18 at 11 am in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The price of the tour is $15 ($10 for members), and all will meet inside the park at 85th Street and Central Park West.
5. Art and Civil Rights Gallery Tour at the Brooklyn Museum
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, The Brooklyn Museum has on tap an Art and Civil Rights gallery tour both Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm. The tour will explore their collection as well as the current exhibit Agitprop! about America’s activism movements. It is also worth mentioning that the museum will be playing “Selma” on Teen Movie Night (yes, this night was put together by teens, and is for teens) on January 22 from 4:30 pm to 8 pm. The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway.
4. NYC Parks Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With a Day of Service
New York City Parks invites us to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a Day of Service. Volunteer opportunities to clean up the parks and recreation centers are available in all five boroughs on Monday, January 18. Volunteers can also work with the Stewardship Team at Idlewild Park maintaining the wetlands.
3. Spend Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend with the New York Historical Society
The New York Historical Society will hold “Living History Days: Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend” from January 16-18 from 11 am to 4 pm. This exhibit will show you what it was like to fight for racial equality during the American Civil War 150 years before the Civil Rights movement. The event will be located at the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West at 77th Street. Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, educators and active military, $12 for students and $6 for children ages 5-13.
2. Volunteer at the Food Bank for the City of New York for Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend of Service
The Food Bank for the City of New York is holding their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend of service from January 16-18. They have lots for you to do, from deep cleaning at the Community Kitchen in West Harlem to pantry distribution in Chelsea. Volunteer opportunities are available in all five boroughs on their MLK Weekend of Service website.
1. Join the 14th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Interfaith Peace Walk
We top off our list with the 14th annual interfaith Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Peace Walk hosted by Holy Name of Jesus Roman Catholic Church, located at 207 West 96th Street. The march will be held on Monday, January 18 at 2 pm. Participants will visit several host sites, and end at Blessed Sacrament Church on West 71st Street and Broadway, where refreshments will be served. Also, there will be an African-American Heritage Sunday mass on January 17 at noon at the Holy Name of Jesus Roman Catholic Church.
Next, check out 10 places to honor Martin Lurther King Jr., any day of the year. As we conclude Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and birthday celebrations, we look forward to furthering the conversation in February during Black History Month. Get in touch with the author at AFineLyne.