Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
Let’s see some interesting facts about him!
1. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia.
2. His parents were Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King.
3. King’s legal name at birth was Michael King, and his father was also born Michael King, but the elder King changed his and his son’s names following a 1934 trip to Germany to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. It was during this time he chose to be called Martin Luther King in honor of the German reformer Martin Luther.
4. King had Irish ancestry through his paternal great-grandfather, as well as African ancestry.
5. King was a middle child, between an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King.
7. King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind.
8. King liked singing and music.
9. His mother was an accomplished organist and choir leader, and she took him to various churches to sing. He received attention for singing “I Want to Be More and More Like Jesus.” King later became a member of the junior choir in his church.
10. King said that his father regularly whipped him until he was fifteen. A neighbor reported hearing the elder King telling his son “he would make something of him even if he had to beat him to death.”
11. King saw his father’s proud and fearless protests against segregation, such as King Sr. refusing to listen to a traffic policeman after being referred to as “boy,” or stalking out of a store with his son when being told by a shoe clerk that they would have to “move to the rear” of the store to be served.
12. When King was a child, he befriended a white boy whose father owned a business near his family’s home. When the boys were six, they started school: King had to attend a school for African Americans and the other boy went to one for whites (public schools were among the facilities segregated by state law). King lost his friend because the child’s father no longer wanted the boys to play together.
13. King suffered from depression throughout much of his life.
14. In his adolescent years, he initially felt resentment against whites due to the “racial humiliation” that he, his family, and his neighbors often had to endure in the segregated South.
15. At the age of 12, shortly after his maternal grandmother died, King blamed himself and jumped out of a second-story window, but survived.
16. King was skeptical of many of Christianity’s claims. At the age of 13, he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus during Sunday school. From this point, he stated, “doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly”. However, he later concluded that the Bible has “many profound truths which one cannot escape” and decided to enter the seminary.
17. Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School.
18. He became known for his public speaking ability and was part of the school’s debate team.
19. King became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station for the Atlanta Journal in 1942 when he was 13.
20. During his junior year, he won first prize in an oratorical contest sponsored by the Negro Elks Club in Dublin, Georgia.
21. Returning home to Atlanta by bus, he and his teacher were ordered by the driver to stand so that white passengers could sit down. King initially refused, but complied after his teacher told him that he would be breaking the law if he did not submit. King said that during this incident, he was “the angriest I have ever been in my life”. A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grades of high school.
22. During King’s junior year in high school, Morehouse College, a respected historically black college, announced that it would accept any high school juniors who could pass its entrance exam. At that time, many students had abandoned further studies to enlist in World War II. Due to this, Morehouse was eager to fill its classrooms. At the age of 15, King passed the exam and entered Morehouse.
23. The summer before his last year at Morehouse, in 1947, the 18-year-old King chose to enter the ministry.
24. He had concluded that the church offered the most assuring way to answer “an inner urge to serve humanity”. King’s “inner urge” had begun developing, and he made peace with the Baptist Church, as he believed he would be a “rational” minister with sermons that were “a respectful force for ideas, even social protest.”
25. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. degree in sociology and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a B.Div. degree in 1951.King’s father fully supported his decision to continue his education.
26. While attending Crozer, King was joined by Walter McCall, a former classmate at Morehouse.
27. At Crozer, King was elected president of the student body. The African-American students of Crozer for the most part conducted their social activity on Edwards Street. King became fond of the street because a classmate had an aunt who prepared collard greens for them, which they both relished.
28. King once reproved another student for keeping beer in his room, saying they had shared responsibility as African Americans to bear “the burdens of the Negro race.” For a time, he was interested in Walter Rauschenbusch’s “social gospel”.
29. In his third year at Morehouse, King became romantically involved with the white daughter of an immigrant German woman who worked as a cook in the cafeteria.
30. The daughter had been involved with a professor prior to her relationship with King. King planned to marry her, but friends advised against it, saying that such an interracial marriage would provoke animosity from both blacks and whites, potentially damaging his chances of ever pastoring a church in the South.
31. King tearfully told a friend that he could not endure his mother’s pain over the marriage and broke the relationship off six months later. He continued to have lingering feelings toward the women he left; one friend was quoted as saying, “He never recovered.”
32. King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents’ house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama; he was 24 and she was 26. They became the parents of four children: Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King.
33. During their marriage, King limited Coretta’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, expecting her to be a housewife and mother.
34. At age 25 in 1954, King was called as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
35. King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. degree on June 5, 1955, with a dissertation on A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.
36.While pursuing doctoral studies, King worked as an assistant minister at Boston’s historic Twelfth Baptist Church with Rev.
37. William Hunter Hester. Hester was an old friend of King’s father, and was an important influence on King.
38. Decades later, an academic inquiry in October 1991 concluded that portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly. However, “[d]espite its finding, the committee said that ‘no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King’s doctoral degree,’ an action that the panel said would serve no purpose.”
39. The committee also found that the dissertation still “makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship.” A letter is now attached to the copy of King’s dissertation held in the university library, noting that numerous passages were included without the appropriate quotations and citations of sources.
40. Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
41. In 1955 he took leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott where Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat and moving to the back of the bus for a white man.
42. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted a year and on November 13th 1956 the supreme court declared segregation on busses was unconstitutional.
43. In 1957 along with other civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to organize and conduct non-violent protests for civil rights.
44. Martin Luther King Jr. with other civil rights activists will go on to lead many non-violent protests for civil rights around the country.
45. In February 1959 Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to India to study Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violence.
46. Gandhi’s principles of peaceful resistance had a lasting impression on Martin Luther King Jr., he used them in his fight against racial discrimination.
47. On June 23rd 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. lead a Freedom Walk in Detroit Michigan, 125,000 took part in the walk.
48. On August 28th 1963 at a historic march in Washington DC for jobs, freedom, racial equality and the end of discrimination Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.
49. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested many times during his protests for civil rights.
50. November 27 1967 Martin Luther King announces the Poor People Campaign focusing on jobs and freedom for the poor of all races.
51. Martin Luther King Jr. also protested against the Vietnam war.
52. In a secret operation code-named “Minaret”, the National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications of leading Americans, including King, who criticized the U.S. war in Vietnam. A review by the NSA itself concluded that Minaret was “disreputable if not outright illegal.”[
53. Having concluded that King was dangerous due to communist infiltration, the FBI shifted to attempting to discredit King through revelations regarding his private life. FBI surveillance of King, some of it since made public, attempted to demonstrate that he also engaged in numerous extramarital affairs.
54. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee.
55. King Jr.’s autopsy revealed that stress had taken a major toll on his body. Despite being just 39 at the time of his death, one of the doctors noted that he had “the heart of a 60 year old”.
56. On November 2nd 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day in remembrance of all the great things he did to fight for civil rights.
57. He was the first African American to be granted a national holiday.
58. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated the third Monday on January.
59. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated in January because his birthday is in January.
60. Martin Luther King Day was celebrated for the first time on January 20th 1986.
61. All 50 states did not recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day at a paid day off holiday until 2000.
62. Utah was the last state to declare Martin Luther King Jr. a holiday.
63. Over 1,000 streets are named after Martin Luther King Jr.
64. King was awarded at least fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities.
65. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S.
66. In 1965, he was awarded the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee for his “exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty”. In his acceptance remarks, King said, “Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free.”
67. In 1957, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
68. Two years later, he won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.
69. In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded King the Margaret Sanger Award for “his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity”. Also in 1966, King was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
70. King and his wife were also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
71. Martin Luther King Jr. was nearly assassinated a decade earlier than his ultimate death. While on a book tour, signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom, on September 20, 1958, King was approached by Izola Ware Curry who asked him if he was Martin Luther King Jr., which he of course replied affirmatively. When he said he was, she said “I’ve been looking for you for five years.” She then pulled out a letter opener and stabbed him in the chest. It took three full hours to remove the blade. The reason? The sharp point end of the blade was pressing against his aorta and the doctors had to be extremely careful while removing it because of this. The doctor, Dr. Maynard, told him after, “If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting, your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.”
72. His mother, Alberta Williams King, was also murdered. She was killed while attending church in Atlanta in 1974 by a 23 year old man, Marcus Wayne Chenault, who believed “all Christians are my enemies”. He shot and killed her while she was playing organ at the church.