Martin Luther King and Harlem


In 1984, West 125th Street in Harlem was renamed Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. (Photo by Wally Gobetz)

Martin Luther King Jr. has quite a history in Harlem. In 1958, he was stabbed by a woman during a book signing. He was taken to Harlem Hospital, where he was treated and recovered.

Veteran journalist Gabe Pressman remembers interviewing King after the incident:

“I was amazed at how calm he was. He said that he had no bitterness against Izola Curr, the woman who stabbed him in the sternum. “I think she needs help,” King told me. “I’m not angry at her.”

As I look back at this episode, I am amazed at how easily I got into King’s room. I can’t remember whether I had a camera or whether I was using only a radio tape recorder. I remember that this happened during a heated political campaign between Nelson Rockefeller, the liberal Republican candidate, and the man he was trying to unseat, Gov. Averell Harriman. Both of them, I was told, telephoned the hospital to find out how King was doing.

King was not yet at the height of his fame, but the candidates and their handlers knew he was an up-and-coming leader and they wanted to register their concern for him.

I don’t remember exactly what King said to me on that day. He clearly was advocating the need to fight poverty in our country. But over the years and especially after his assassination, I came to appreciate the power of his words — words and thoughts that stand well the test of time. “

In 1967, he gave a speech at Riverside Church where he opposed the Vietnam War. It was remembered as being very honest, to say the least.

“…his argument, basically, was that I cannot, as a practitioner and a true believer in nonviolence, espouse that nonviolent philosophy in our movement and then somehow sit idly by when I see violence being engaged around the world. Martin built his speech that night, Neal, around three major points: around increasing militarism, around escalating poverty and around the issue of racism.

And he said these three issues of racism and poverty and militarism are going to destroy this nation. And we are spending money for a war abroad that ought to be spent for the war on poverty here at home. And I can’t tell young black men, who are being denied right here in the streets of America, that they should offer themselves up and to sign themselves up to go – to do harm to people around the world who they do not know.” – Tavis Smiley

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech that King gave in Washington, D.C. Watch the footage here.

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