In 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr., first visited Ithaca as a guest of Cornell University, delivering a sermon to a standing-room-only crowd at Sage Chapel and answering questions afterward in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall. In 1961, Dr. King returned to Ithaca to speak at a fundraiser at Bailey Hall that was sponsored by the Cornell Committee Against Segregation and the Ithaca Freedom Walk.
Forty-eight years after his second visit, in 2009, the city of Ithaca Freedom Walkway Committee embarked on the development of a physical MLK Freedom Walkway in the city of Ithaca. The walkway is a physical trail celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King in the context of Ithaca's African American history. It traces local events and people whose efforts mirror the national struggle for civil rights and social justice.
Two walking loops are planned, each of which will link local history with the national stage and include such topics as the Freedom Seekers, the Abolitionist Movement, Emancipation, the Civil Rights Movement, and the rich social and cultural life of Ithaca's African American community. The self-guided tours for each loop will include written material and audio interpretive aids, supported by pieces of permanent public art installed along the tour route. A common design vocabulary will be utilized for these materials so that the 2 loops, though physically distant, are visually unified. The sculpture of MLK, Jr., located on the western end of the Downtown Ithaca Commons, will serve as the central link between the 2 loops of the walkway.