When we think of great African American historic sites in New York, we typically think of Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Lower Manhattan’s African Burial Ground, or Brooklyn’s Weeksville Houses. But one building that should perhaps join the list is 70 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village, which housed the headquarters of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization; The Crisis, the first magazine published for an African American audience; and the first magazine dedicated to African American children, meant to combat the commonplace demeaning stereotypes of the time, headed by none other than civil rights icon W.E.B. DuBois.
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.
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.
Photo courtesy of James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Forty-six years before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington, nearly 10,000 African-Americans silently marched down Fifth Avenue to protest racial violence in the United States. Organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Silent Protest Parade occurred on Saturday, July 28, 1917, and became the first mass civil rights demonstration of its kind. Protesters walked from 55th and 59th Streets to Madison Square, without so much as a whisper (h/t Hyperallergic).