Freedom! comes to Brooklyn for King Tribute

Cherry blossom trees surround the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at dusk, Wednesday, April 3, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Cherry blossom trees surround the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at dusk, Wednesday, April 3, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Associated Press / Patrick Semansky

The brainchild of Allison Janae Hamilton, Chinaedu Nwadiba, Dawoud Bey, Leslie Hewitt, Robert Pruitt, and Stacey Robinson and Kamau Grantham will be in full view for a limited run in an exhibition titled “Freedom” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from Jan. 12-20.

The seven visionary artists collaborated to gift “Freedom!” to Brooklynites during a period of celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Aimed at engaging the community in a conversation about the topic, the exhibition will salute the contributions of two iconic Black trailblazers — the Freedom newspaper and playwright Lorraine Hansberry.

Inspired by the work of the playwright and activist who interpreted the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes to a dramatic production that transformed the theatrical landscape when she staged “A Raisin In The Sun,” “Freedom” exemplifies the essence of Hansberry’s excellence.

She was only 29 years old, the youngest American playwright, the fifth woman and the only African American when she won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best Play of the Year.

In 1959, her all-Black production emerged the first play ever produced on the Great White Way by a Black woman.

The play starred Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett Jr. Glynn Turman and Claudia Mc Neil and was later retold on film.

Since then numerous revivals have showcased talented thespians in portrayals of lead roles, including Sean “P-Diddy” Combs and Phylicia Rashad.

Now regarded as the template generations of aspiring Black thespians adopts to test their mettle, Hansberry’s trailblazer and the narratives she penned in the Harlem-based Freedom newspaper form the basis of this project.

Allegedly, Hansberry worked in various roles at Paul Robeson and Louis Burnham’s Freedom newspaper from 1951-55.

The newspaper is reputed to have openly challenged racism, colonialism, and political repression and advocated for Civil and labor rights.

Contributors to the publication included Hansberry, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alice Childress, Eslanda Goode Robeson, Dorothy Burnham, Thelma Dale, and Shirley Graham DuBois.

Timed to coincide with the annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the project pays homage to the legacy of the civil rights activist and encourages viewers to reflect on the topic. It also explores Black artistry, hails activism and shouts advances to liberation.

What is freedom to you?

How can we think about freedom from a broader perspective?

Those and other compelling questions on notions of freedom will hopefully be contemplated.


Last year for the first time on MLK Day, performers with Vy Higgensen’s Mama!Foundation For the Arts crossed a bridge from Manhattan in order to join the chorus of voices annually united at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the largest birthday tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Following the SRO (standing room only) presentation, Higgensen expressed glee that her Sing Harlem choir were chosen to join the diverse lineup invited to honor the Civil Rights icon. This year she is over the moon that the group has been invited back for a repeat performance of their rollicking, gospel repertoire.

They will join an illustrious group of elected officials, scholars, activists, Grammy-nominated performer Allison Russell and civil rights attorney and keynote speaker Sherrilyn Ifill on Jan. 16 in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House (Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Avenue) for the 37th annual tribute/celebration.

“The fact that this event continues to draw the biggest crowd in New York City on Martin Luther King Day year after year shows his enduring significance in society. We gather to celebrate his life and discuss the serious work still at hand,” Coco Killingsworth, BAM Vice President of Creative Social Impact said.

“BAM has long been committed to creating spaces for activists, leaders, and artists to express themselves freely and giving audiences what they need. The annual MLK Tribute puts those needs into focus by bringing the community face-to-face with the civic leaders who are working on the issues that matter the most to them.”

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso will serve as the master of ceremony.

The program will be shared as a video simulcast at 10:30 a.m. at

Catch You On The Inside!