Martin Luther King Triangle
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), was a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement. He became famous in the 1950s and 1960s for his advocacy of nonviolent, direct action in the struggle against racism. King was a child prodigy who entered Morehouse College, in Atlanta, at 15 and was ordained a minister of the Baptist Church at 19. As pastor of the Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama, King gained a reputation as an eloquent and committed opponent of racial intolerance. He was elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association and spearheaded the Montgomery bus boycott, which led to desegregation of the city’s buses in 1956.
King resigned from the Dexter Avenue Church in 1959 in order to found and direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization devoted to challenging racism with nonviolent civil disobedience. In 1963, he organized the March on Washington to support proposed civil rights legislation. There he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The following year, at age 35, King became the youngest man, the second American, and the third black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. He was one of the great American heroes of the 20th century, a man who devoted his life to fostering tolerance and equality on the ground that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His courage continues to inspire people all over the world. King is honored with a national holiday, on the third Monday in January, which falls close to or on his birthday, January 15th.
Mott Haven is an appropriate place for a memorial to Dr. King. Before the Civil War (1861-1864), the area was the site of two stations on the Underground Railroad. The Fugitive Slave Act had decreed that slave owners could come north to search for runaway slaves. One place where a slave on the road to freedom could hide was the villa of Charles Van Doren, which stood at East 145th Street and Third Avenue. Another was the Mott Haven Dutch Reformed Church, which still stands on East 146th Street.
The City map designated this triangle, bounded by Austin Place and East 149th Streets, as a public space in 1892. Acquisition was completed when the City purchased the property by condemnation and transferred it on June 8th, 1906 to the Department of Parks. A 1935 Parks survey described the triangle as “unimproved, uncultivated, neglected.” For years the property went unnamed. In the years following Dr. King’s assassination, this cobblestone triangle was named in his honor, furnished with benches and planted with low shrubs and bushes, as a humble tribute to the great civil rights leader.