Martin Luther King Day

What is Martin Luther King Day and how is it celebrated in New York?

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Every year on the third Monday of January, the United States celebrates Martin Luther King Day. It is a national holiday on which the entire nation pays tribute to the pastor and peace activist, leader of the American civil rights movement. This day, which also marks the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's birth (15 January), has a particularly important place in New York.

If you happen to be in New York City in January, you will even be able to participate in several special events 🙂

Who was Martin Luther King?

martin luther king day i have a dream

Born in 1929 in the segregated South, Martin Luther King Jr. was a non-violent activist who worked extensively against racial segregation and for the civil rights of African-Americans. His 'I Have a Dream' speech in 1963 is among the most important public speeches in American history.

The following year, this brilliant orator became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner. He was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 39. His tragic end and the importance of his struggle made him one of the most important political figures of the 20th century.

What to do in New York for Martin Luther King Day?

If you are unsure of what to do in New York City on Martin Luther King Day, you should know that although the day is a holiday and government offices and schools are closed, most establishments and shops remain open.

On this day, the actions of Martin Luther King are celebrated, and everyone in the city celebrates racial equality. Many people use the day to give of themselves, including cleaning up the city's public parks and helping people in need.

There are also many activities to celebrate the memory of this great man, who came to New York many times and even gave several memorable speeches here. So here is a list of things to do on Martin Luther King Day 😉

Go to a gospel service in Harlem

If you want to experience African-American culture on Martin Luther King Day, one of the best things to do is to attend a gospel service in Harlem – especially considering Martin Luther King himself was a Church leader. This experience, which is already a must on any trip to New York, takes on a whole new dimension on January 15.

With the activity I suggest below, you will be able to attend a gospel service in Harlem on a Sunday morning of your choice. You will of course attend the service, but you will also visit the Apollo Theatre, all for £65 per person.


See the bust of Martin Luther King in Harlem

Two years after Martin Luther King's assassination, sculptor Stan Sawyer created a bronze bust that still stands today in the Esplanade Gardens in Harlem – between 147th and 151st Streets, along the Harlem River.

The plaque below the bust includes part of King’s 1963 speech. Many city residents and visitors come to pay their respects to this statue on this day.

The Apollo Theatre's Annual Celebration

concert apollo theatre
apollo theatre

The Apollo Theatre is one of New York's most iconic venues and one of the best jazz clubs in New York. The biggest names in jazz and blues have performed here, and legendary stars such as Louis ArmstrongElla Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington had their first hits here.

Every year to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, a live radio broadcast is recorded in the theatre: Uptown Hall: MLK, Activism, and the Arts Broadcast. Activists, students, and intellectuals come here to talk about the legacy of Martin Luther King and how to carry on his work.

Have you considered a tourist pass? 🎫 

No matter when you decide to visit New York City, I recommend investing in one of the many New York passes that are sure to save you money if you want to visit some of the city’s must-see places. For Martin Luther King Day, the best pass is the Explorer Pass:

  • It's the only pass that includes a Harlem Gospel Tour.
  • You can enjoy discounts for jazz concerts in New York.
  • It offers an attractive price: available from $134 (for 4 attractions).

Attend a NBA game

Ever Since 1986 (three years after the first Martin Luther King Day), NBA basketball games have been held to celebrate this date. Many teams participate, and the games often feature teams that played each other in the playoffs the previous season. The team that most often participates is the one from Atlanta, the pastor's hometown – but the New York Knicks also usually play at home on this day. Martin Luther King Day is therefore a perfect opportunity to attend an NBA game in New York City.

You are now ready to celebrate Martin Luther King Day like any other American! All you have left to do is plan your trip to New York. And if you finally decide that January doesn't work for you, feel free to read my guide on when to go to New York 😄

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