Martin Luther King Day events: How to mark MLK’s legacy

Make the most of your time off. Mark the civil-rights leader's achievements at performances, programming and Martin Luther King Day celebrations in New York.

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Photograph: Elena Olivo

Since it was first observed nationwide in 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. There are plenty of events to check out on the day itself and over the weekend, including live-music tributes, museum exhibits, readings and more. And to help round out your day, we've picked a few more things to do, too.

Martin Luther King Day events on the day

Come Share the Dream

  • Critics choice
  • Free

The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s MLK-Day tribute features jazz and soul singer José James performing an original song dedicated to King and Nelson Mandela, as well as a performance from the Christian Cultural Center Choir. Social-justice activist Angela Davis delivers a keynote address. Tickets distributed from 8am.

  1. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House 30 Lafayette Ave, between Ashland Pl and St. Felix St
  2. Mon Jan 20
More info

Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Historic Harlem Walking Tour

  • Price band: 2/4

Meet at the northwest corner of 135th St and Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave). Subway: 2, 3 to 135th St. 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.

  1. Manhattan
  2. Mon Jan 20
More info

Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival

  • Price band: 1/4

The museum hosts art projects and activities that celebrate the life and mission of Martin Luther King Jr. Little ones celebrate New York City's diversity by making collages of the different people and places in their neighborhood (ages 2 to 4), while older kids learn about the civil rights leader and the difference they can make (ages 5 and up). All ages.

  1. Children's Museum of Manhattan 212 W 83rd St, between Amsterdam Ave and Broadway
  2. Sat Jan 18 - Mon Jan 20
More info

The Negro and the American Promise

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

See a slice of civil-rights history when the Moving Image screens a public-television special that first aired on Boston’s WGBH station in June 1963, just two months before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In it, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malcolm X and novelist James Baldwin discuss their (at times) opposing views on racial integration and other hot-button issues of the day.

  1. Museum of the Moving Image 36-01 35th Ave, at 37th St, 11106
  2. Mon Jan 20
More info

Martin Luther King Day events over the weekend

WNYC’s Dreams for NYC Inspired by MLK

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Pre–MLK Day, Peabody Award–winning radio host Brian Lehrer and journalist Farai Chideya present an afternoon of panel discussions, readings and music. Arrive on time: The afternoon begins with a Hendrix-style rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Living Colour’s Vernon Reid. R.S.V.P. required.

  1. Apollo Theater 253 W 125th St, between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (Seventh Ave) and Frederick Douglass Blvd (Eighth Ave)
  2. Sun Jan 19
More info

Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.

Get inspired by the big ideas of historical giant Martin Luther King Jr. during a workshop that introduces budding change makers to the meaning and symbols of the civil rights movement. After brushing up on their history, kids will participate in a National Day of Service project. Ages 6 and up.

  1. Brooklyn Children’s Museum 145 Brooklyn Ave, at St. Marks Ave
  2. Sat Jan 18 - Sun Jan 19
More info

Martin Luther King Day events during the week

We Play for MLK

Venezuelan jazz-piano virtuosos Luis Perdomo and Benito González stage a series of afternoon gigs honoring Martin Luther King Jr. The Jan 15 show features Perdomo in duet with saxist Miguel Zenón; González plays solo on Jan 22, while Perdomo duets with saxist Mark Shim on Jan 29.

  1. One Liberty Plaza 165 Broadway, between Cortlandt and Liberty Sts, 10006
  2. Wed Jan 22 - Wed Jan 29
More info


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