Dr. King’s gift of leadership extended to the issues of everyday people and their communities, not only in Memphis and Montgomery, but also here in Washington.
He came often to Washington to meet with U.S. presidents — every one from Eisenhower to Johnson, in fact. He conferred here with national leaders and planned major national events, such as the 1963 March on Washington and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.
The first major speech that brought him to national attention, “Give Us the Ballot” at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, took place in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial in 1957.
Dr. King also brought his exquisite sensitivity and spiritual leadership to connect with local religious and civil rights leaders. He visited DC’s neighborhoods, spoke in its churches, and met with local leaders to embrace — and draw attention to — local causes, particularly home rule for the District of Columbia.
Below are some of the places and events along Cultural Tourism DC's Neighborhood Heritage Trails that highlight Dr. King’s special relationship with Washington, DC.
Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., between 13th and 14th Sts.
In August 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., sat in his room at the Willard Hotel, adjacent to Freedom Plaza, putting the finishing touches on his historic “I Have a Dream” speech before delivering it to a crowd of 200,000 at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The name of the block-long plaza at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, “Freedom Plaza,” honors Dr. King and his speech.
From Rural to Residential
4900 Grant St., NE
On August 4, 1965, Dr. King addressed a rally on the open land across 49th Street from this Heritage Trail sign. Sargent Memorial Church, pastored by Rev. Everett A. Hewlett, Sr., hosted him in Deanwood. The following day, Dr. King met with President Lyndon B. Johnson to receive assurances that Johnson supported home rule for DC residents at a time when all of DC affairs were controlled by three presidentially appointed commissioners and congressional committees. DC residents could only vote for president. Johnson, in 1967, succeeded in putting into place limited home rule whereby DC residents elect their mayor and city council, and write legislation and budgets governing the city. However, in 2011, DC residents have no representation in Congress and congressional committees continue to have oversight (including the power to veto) all legislation and budgets despite continuing campaigns by Washingtonians for complete home rule and voting representation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
On the Heights
South side of 1200 block Clifton St., NW, east of 13th St.
On March 12, 1967, Dr. King spoke to a public meeting at Cardozo High School on urban renewal plans for the nearby Shaw neighborhood.
Pitts Motor Hotel
SE corner or on plaza at 15th and Belmont Sts., NW
The Pitts Motor Hotel, formerly located at 1451 Belmont Street, lingers in memory as a gathering place for Civil Rights movement leaders in the 1960s. In March 1968, during Dr. King’s final visit to Washington, he reserved 30 rooms at the Pitts Hotel to house leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign he planned to lead in May. He chose the facility because it was both comfortable and black owned. Despite Dr. King’s April 1968 assassination, the Poor People’s Campaign went ahead with demonstrators who maintained that jobs and income were a civil right owed to needy citizens by the federal government.
Howard Pl. at Sixth St., NW
In December 1956, a very young Dr. King spoke in Howard University’s Rankin Chapel. One month earlier the U.S. Supreme Court had declared the bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, to be unconstitutional, after a year-long boycott of buses sparked by Rosa Parks and led by Dr. King.
Visit the events page to particiapte in programs and activites that celebrate the legacy of Dr. King.
"The Heritage Trails which you create are such gifts to DC.
H Street NE will be enhanced immeasurably by the addition of its guiding signposts of the past and point us towards the future."