Martin Luther King Day events in NYC

Mark the civil-rights leader's legacy with performances, programming and Martin Luther King Day celebrations in New York

Photograph: Elena Olivo

Since it was first observed nationwide in January of 1986, the holiday commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has served as a reminder of his legacy to the causes of civil rights, nonviolent opposition and community service. Along with becoming a volunteer in NYC to help honor Dr. King's memory, there are plenty of events to check out on the day itself over the weekend, including live-music tributes, museum exhibits, readings and more. Don't miss out on these events, along with other great things to do this winter.

When is Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day is Monday, January 18, 2016.

Martin Luther King Day events in NYC

29th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Critics' pick

Acclaimed activist and educator Dr. Cornel West is the keynote speaker at BAM’s yearly celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Following the speech are performances by the New York Fellowship Mass Choir and Sandra St. Victor & Oya’s Daughter, as well as the art exhibition “Picture the Dream” by NYCHA Atlantic Terminal Community Center students and a 1pm screening of the film The Central Park Five, about five young black and latino men who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman, directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon.

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BAM Howard Gilman Opera House 19 Jan 2015 Free

Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Historic Harlem Walking Tour

Learn about New York’s links to the civil-rights movement on a special edition of Big Onion’s Historic Harlem Walking Tour. Notable stops along the two-hour trek include the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; the NYC headquarters of the NAACP; and the Harlem Hospital Center, where the reverend was treated in 1958 after being stabbed with a letter opener in a bookstore.

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Manhattan 19 Jan 2015

"A Shared Dream"

Enjoy performances by Grammy Award–winning Bishop Hezekiah Walker, Brooklyn United Marching Band, Mr. Reed of America's Got Talent and more in celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts (at Brooklyn College) 19 Jan 2015 Free

Thank You, Dr. King

Arthur Mitchell founded Dance Theatre of Harlem shortly after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. In this performance, Mitchell's troupe narrates his life and how Dr. King's legacy inspired him to succeed.

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JCC in Manhattan 19 Jan 2015

Martin Luther King Day events over the weekend

Annual MLK Day Celebration

Join Saul Williams as he recites poetry and performs his music in honor of the late civil-rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

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S.O.B.’s 18 Jan 2015

Civil Rights Weekend Scavenger Hunt

Learn more about the equal-voting-rights movement with an in-depth scavenger hunt in honor of civil-rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

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New York Historical Society 17 Jan 2015 Free

Hear Our Voices, Count Our Votes: MLK's March Continues

Critics' pick

WNYC and Apollo Theater celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with a panel discussion about his legacy, tributes to other civil rights activists, including Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee, and a musical performance by Alyson Williams and Refining Faith, all hosted by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer and MSNBC's Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry. R.S.V.P. for guaranteed admittance.

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Apollo Theater 18 Jan 2015 Free

Other things to do for MLK Day

Kara Walker, "Afterword"

Critics' pick

This is the artist's first solo show since her blockbuster public-art project at the old Dominos Sugar refinery in Williamsburg. On view are studies for the centerpiece, a massive sphinx, as well as the actual retinue of boys made of molasses that accompanied it. The creature's gigantic front paw is also included, along with drawings made during the Williamsburg installation that reflect upon the massive audience response to the piece. A large watercolor "interpretation" of J.M.W. Turner’s The Slave Ship from 1840 wraps up the proceedings.

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Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Until Sat Jan 17 Free

Harlem Gospel Choir

Formed in 1986, the Harlem Gospel Choir has an impressive crossover résumé, having worked with U2 (on Rattle and Hum), Diana Ross and Jimmy Cliff. The group’s performances are exuberant, to say the least, as you'd expect from its slogan: "Get your dose of the Holy Ghost."

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B.B. King Blues Club & Grill 18 Jan 2015

The Black Experience

Whether you've asked for it or not, Jonathan Braylock delivers this unapologetic journey through the modern African-American experience at this comedy show.

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Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre 19 Jan 2015


Do we dare watch Ava DuVernay’s civil-rights drama as a mere piece of historical re-creation (expert though it is), and not as a newscast of what’s happening right now? There’s nothing “finished” about the issue of American racism and fittingly, Selma, unlike so many great-man biopics, lures us into a crucible of unsettled arguments and shifting strategies as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark 1965 Alabama march becomes a reality—at a terrible cost. The film plays like a better episode of Mad Men, pitch-perfect in its details yet fully lived-in: a universe of rolled-up shirt sleeves, sweat-laden brows and screams that don’t sound canned. Meticulously researched and elegantly scripted by debuting screenwriter Paul Webb, Selma toggles between moments big and small, though everything feels necessary.

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Studio Museum in Harlem

When Studio Museum opened in 1968, it was the first black fine-arts museum in the country, and it remains the place to go for historical insight into African-American art and the art of the African diaspora. Under the leadership of director Lowery Sims (formerly at the Met) and chief curator Thelma Golden (formerly of the Whitney), this neighborhood favorite has evolved into the city’s most exciting showcase for contemporary African-American artists.

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