Mayor Robert F. Wagner shakes hands with Coretta Scott King. Photo from the Library of Congress
Coretta Scott King called MLK Day “a people’s holiday,” but it’s hard to resist honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had some of his most important moments here in New York City. Below we’ve summarized King’s relationship to New York in 10 vignettes.
1. Blumstein’s Department Store (1958)
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 cooly 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.