Martin Luther King Jr. with Coretta Scott King and Mayor Wagner
Mayor Robert F. Wagner shakes hands with Coretta Scott King. Photo from the Library of Congress

Coretta Scott King called Martin Luther King, Jr. Day “a people’s holiday,” but it is hard to resist honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had some of his most important moments here in New York City. King often gave speeches in New York, as well as led fundraising efforts for Civil Rights causes. Below we have summarized King’s relationship to New York in 10 vignettes.

1. Blumstein’s Department Store (1958)

Buildings where Blumstein's Department store used to be

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 had called him “a first-rate rabble rouser.” Optics were further complicated when King’s supporters 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 left a cross-shaped scar on King’s chest, which he would later point to with pride.