Honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (r.) with Bayard Rustin

At Village Preservation, we’re proud of and humbled by the deeply important work so many in our neighborhoods have done to advance the cause of equality and human dignity, particularly in the realm of African American civil rights.  We’re especially honored that some of that work bore a direct connection to Dr. King, including that of the man who made it his life’s mission to create today’s national holiday honoring Dr. King, the man who profoundly influenced and was the closest confidant of King, and the women and men who helped make possible the 1963 March on Washington, which featured King’s “I Have A Dream”  Speech and helped spur passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That history has deep roots. The first non-native settlers of our neighborhoods were African American men and women who worked hard to secure their freedom from slavery in New Amsterdam. The last person executed in Washington Square was a young African American girl who attempted to escape slavery.  And the original “Freedom Rider,” who campaigned to desegregate the New York City streetcar system in the mid-19th century, one hundred years before Rosa Parks, was en route to her church in the East Village.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was written here.  The first Broadway play by an African American woman was written here.  The first African American to address the United States Congress lived here.  The NYC Chapter of the Black Panthers was founded here.  Billie Holiday first performed “Strange Fruit” here, at the first integrated nightclub.  

 Villagers performing at the March on Washington. (Left: © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah. Our special thanks to the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah for their support of Village Preservation).

We work every day to illuminate history such as this, which is all too often forgotten, overlooked, or erased.  Right now, we are fighting to get the City to landmark and protect a vulnerable section of our neighborhood south of Union Square, where Greenwich Village meets the East Village, which was a preeminent center for civil rights efforts throughout the 19th and 20th centuries – for African Americans, womenLGBTQ+ people, and many more.  

It’s where the nation’s oldest civil rights organization was headquartered while leading key anti-lynching, anti-segregation, and anti-voter disenfranchisement campaigns, and where they first began to fly the “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday” flag.  It’s where the world’s first African American magazine began, which helped launch the Harlem Renaissance and the careers of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurtson, Countee Cullen, and many others. 

Billie Holiday at Café Society

It’s where groundbreaking campaigns against Jim Crow were waged, where Billie Holiday made her first recordings, along with some of the first integrated musical recordings ever, and where a brave publisher printed The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

During the Civil War, it’s where New Yorkers organized to ensure that slavery would be ended throughout the nation, and African American regiments were armed and supplied to fight for the cause.  

The City has resisted our call to landmark these and other critical civil rights sites throughout this neighborhood.  Please join us today in urging city officials to finally support this cause and ensure this critical history is honored and preserved:

January 18, 2021