Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. via Wiki Commons
Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. This ended the life of one of the 20th century’s most revered and influential figures. It also began a 15-year campaign to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday — the first-ever honoring an African American. That successful quest began with and was spearheaded by a native son of Greenwich Village, Howard Bennett. Bennett was one of the last residents of a Greenwich Village community known as “Little Africa,” a predominantly African-American section of the neighborhood which was, for much of New York’s history through the 19th century, the largest and most important African-American community in the city. That neighborhood centered around present-day Minetta, Thompson, Cornelia, and Gay Streets.
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The corner of Pearl and Chatham streets, where Jennings hailed the bus. Photo via New York Historical Society
In 1854, 99 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to white passengers in Alabama, another brave African American woman affected change on local transit with her bravery. Elizabeth Jennings is not a household name, or even well-known, but her brave refusal to cow to 20th-century America’s racist customs and fight for her rights is historic, and the results of her actions have rippled down over the decades.
The whole history
Dr. Benjamin Spock, Dr. King and Monsignor Rice of Pittsburgh march in the Solidarity Day Parade at the United Nations building (April 15, 1967);Photo by Benedict J. Fernadez, courtesy of MCNY
The Museum of the City of New York on Saturday will launch King in New York, a photo exhibition that explores the relationship between Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and New York City. The collection, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of King’s death, provides a look into the iconic civil rights leader’s time spent in the city, starting in the 1950s and continuing through the aftermath of his assassination in 1986. New York, as the country’s media capital, allowed MLK to broadcast his words and messages to both local and global audiences, hold national press conferences and speak to influential advocacy and political groups. He gave sermons at the Riverside Church in Morningside Heights and marched to the United Nations in protest against the Vietnam war. Following his death, thousands of New Yorkers marched in Harlem and Midtown to a Central Park concert to mourn together and the city named parks, playgrounds and streets in his honor. King in New York will be on view from Saturday, Jan. 13 to June 1, 2018.
Explore MLK’s New York City connection
Photo of King via Wikimedia; photo of the MLK cubed sculpture courtesy of Wally Gobetz on Flickr
While some of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most memorable moments of his career happened down South, like the Montgomery bus boycott and his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, support for his goals hailed first from advocacy organizations based in New York City, like the National Urban League. King held sermons at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, led a march from Central Park to the United Nations in protest of the Vietnam War and received a Medallion of Honor from Mayor Robert Wagner. As a way to honor King and his immense impact on the advancement of civil rights, the city has named streets, parks, playgrounds and more after him. On MLK Day this Monday, 50 years after his untimely death, celebrate by learning about memorials dedicated to him citywide.
Learn more about NYC’s MLK memorials here