top of page

Searching for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s statue in Harlem

As Martin Luther King, Jr Day was approaching last week, I was inspired to take a picture of our greatest civil rights hero's statue somewhere in Harlem.

There was only one problem – I couldn't think of a single sculpture off the top of my head.

How hard could it be? Statues of Christopher Columbus and Teddy Roosevelt have pride of place in other parts of the city. And a powerful figure of African-American politician Adam Clayton Powell Jr stands right in the heart of Harlem on 125th Street.

Due to a public outcry and Mayor De Blasio's eventual decision to form a "symbols of hate" commission, I even knew where to find the statue of J. Marion Sims, the pioneering gynecologist who operated on black slave women without their consent. (Thankfully, it will be moved from Central Park to Brooklyn's Green-Wood cemetery.)

An online search revealed a Martin Luther King, Jr statue at the Esplanade Gardens somewhere east of Seventh Avenue in Harlem (thanks, Viewing NYC!). But when I went looking for its exact location on Google Maps, I only found map pins for what I assume are stores called Gift Etc and Walter Appliance. Hmm.

Once I finally walked over to the general area, it didn't take me long to find the bronze bust of MLK, Jr, created by Stan Sawyer two years after Dr. King's assassination. It stood on the north side of 147th Street between Seventh Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, in a small concrete plaza surrounded by bare trees.

It is surprisingly small but beautiful. A plaque below it is inscribed with key parts of the "I have a dream" speech.

I am glad the people who live in and near the Esplanade Gardens get to enjoy this statue. But it's quite disappointing that MLK's bust is facing the huge, windowless Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot across the street. And unless you live in this residential corner of northeast Harlem, the statue is not easy to get to or find.

So here's a proposal: Wouldn't it be nice if New York had a second, more prominent sculpture of Dr. King? (Maybe even on the 125th Street, a.k.a. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard?)

As we rethink the meaning behind so many monuments in our city, now is the time to give this beloved and eternally inspiring figure a statue in a spot known far and wide–and, hey, maybe not opposite a bus depot?

For daily updates, follow The Curious Uptowner on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Screen Shot 2020-11-18 at 2.39.32 PM.png
  • Black Pinterest Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
bottom of page