Since 1983, just 15 years after his death, the third Monday in January has been designated as a federal holiday in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This year, on Jan. 17, cultural institutions all over New York have planned concerts, exhibitions, service opportunities and tours, both in person and online. (Bring your vaccination card, and check mask-wearing and ticketing policies online beforehand.)
Here are seven ways to commemorate the legacy of the civil rights leader and learn more about Black history in New York.
An Annual Bash in Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 36th annual tribute to King, held in person and streaming live at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, will feature a dance piece by Kyle Marshall, set to the oratory of King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” and performances by the singer Nona Hendryx with Craig Harris & Tailgaters Tales and the Sing Harlem choir. A keynote address will also be delivered by Imani Perry, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University. Following the event, visitors can view a display of digital billboards inspired by the writings of bell hooks or attend a free screening at 1 p.m. of the documentary “Attica,” about the violent 1971 prison uprising.
Activism and the Arts
The Apollo Theater and WNYC’s 16th annual celebration will hold two virtual broadcasts on Monday, at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., engaging WNYC radio hosts, scholars and community leaders in a discussion about how the struggle for social justice has affected artists like Nina Simone and John Legend. Guests include the Rev. Al Sharpton, the sports journalist William C. Rhoden and Trazana Beverley, who won a Tony Award for her role in “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” The free event can be streamed through the Apollo’s Digital Stage.
Learn More About the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- $125 Million Donation: The largest capital gift in the Met’s history will help reinvigorate a long-delayed rebuild of the Modern wing.
- Recent Exhibits: Our critics review a masterpiece “African Origin” show, an Afrofuturist period room and a round-the-world tour of Surrealism.
- Behind the Scenes: A documentary goes inside the Met to chronicle one of the most challenging years of its history.
- A Guide to the Met: From the must-see galleries to the lesser-known treasures, here’s how to make the most of your visit.
Discover Seneca Village
Take a tour of Central Park that conjures Seneca Village, the largest community of free African American property owners in early-19th-century New York. Beginning at Mariners’ Gate near the West 85th Street entrance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, your guide will share how the area, once home to around 1,600 residents, provided a respite from the racial discrimination and crowded conditions of downtown Manhattan — until residents were forcibly displaced in 1857 to make way for Central Park. That history is also the subject of a new, vibrant installation across the park, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where “Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room” imagines the home of a Village resident as it might still exist if the family had been left to live undisturbed.
Make a Craft
Just before leading the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965, King passed through the hamlet of Gee’s Bend and encouraged its 900 residents to vote. They would go on to establish the Freedom Quilting Bee, a group that allowed women of the town to earn an income by making quilts that were sold at Saks and Sears; some textiles have entered the permanent collection of the Met. You can put your own sewing skills to the test on Saturday or Sunday at Wave Hill House in the Bronx, where plentiful squares of fabric will be on hand.
Choose a Cause
Since King’s birthday was first observed, it’s been a tradition for volunteers across the country to devote the day to service. Whether you commit to a few hours or a whole month, the website of the federal public-service organization AmeriCorps has a directory where you can search for volunteer opportunities (including ones specific to the holiday). There are virtual options, too, like tutoring or transcription for the Smithsonian Institution and National Archives.
A Streaming Sermon
“The Drum Major Instinct,” a sermon King delivered in 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, will be presented on Zoom on Monday at 7 p.m. by Theater of War Productions and the office of Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate. Along with the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, and the city police commissioner, Keechant Sewell, Williams will take part in a dramatic reading of the text, which challenges people to channel justice, righteousness and peace into acts of service and love. Accompanying them will be performances of music composed in honor of Michael Brown Jr., the 18-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
‘Activist New York’
An ongoing exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York chronicles 350 years of social activism in the city, including civil rights, immigration, transgender activism and women’s rights. It begins with the struggle for religious tolerance during the Dutch colonial period, encompasses debates over nudity, prostitution and contraception in New York, from 1870 to 1930, and ends more recently, with the Movement for Black Lives. New material is added regularly, so it’s one to revisit.