An exhibition exploring Martin Luther King Jr.’s connection to NYC opens this weekend

Written by
Clayton Guse

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis. To honor the minister, the Nobel Prize winner and the face of the American Civil Rights movement, a local museum is debuting a photography exhibition on Sunday that explores his connection to New York City. 

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Running at the Museum of the City of New YorkKing in New York highlights landmark moments from King’s time spent in Gotham, including his 1962 speech at the Park Sheraton Hotel in midtown commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation; his address against the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in 1967; and his keynote speech at the W.E.B. DuBois Centennial Tribute at Carnegie Hall just a few weeks before his death. 

“These photographs illuminate aspects of Martin Luther King Jr. that are less often explored, like his linking of racism with poverty and war,” says Puffin Foundation Curator of social activism Sarah Seidman, a co-organizer of the exhibition. “These positions garnered significant controversy and pushback at the time—from both the United States government and other civil rights leaders—and help us remember him in all of his complexity.”

It’s hard to overstate the footprint that King left in New York City. One of his earliest guest sermons came in 1956 at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side. In 1964, Mayor Robert Wagner awarded him the Medallion of Honor and proclaimed him “an honorary New Yorker.” King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference had an office in Harlem. In the days following his assassination, thousands of New Yorkers marched in Harlem and midtown before gathering for a memorial concert in Central Park. 

“[The exhibition] illuminates a dimension of Martin Luther King Jr. that is often overlooked in his relation to New York and the city’s role in the black freedom movement,” says Whitney Donhauser, the Ronay Meschel director of the Museum of the City of New York.

The exhibition runs through Friday, June 1, and is a great way to commemorate the life and work of King over his namesake holiday weekend.  

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