I have a dream. These timeless words echoed from the mouth of Martin Luther King Jr. and pierced the heart of a nation. Now, every third monday of the year hundreds of millions of people across the United States, Canada, and elsewhere celebrate the fact that the world is a better place because he dared to live it. And although most people are familiar with those four famous words, we would venture to say that there are at least a few things about King’s life you may not be aware of. So, as we honor one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our time, here are 25 things you didn’t know about Martin Luther King Jr.
His father was born “Michael King” and Martin Luther King Jr. was originally called “Michael King Jr”. After a family trip to Germany his father, a pastor and missionary, changed both of their names to “Martin Luther” after the German Protestant Reformer.
At 12 years old he jumped out of a second story window in an apparent suicide attempt following the death of his grandmother.
He skipped two grades and left for college before formally graduating high school.
Entering Moorehouse College at the age of 15, he was accepted as part of a early admittance program that was aimed to boost enrollment during the war.
Originally King had decided against entering the ministry and was considering becoming a doctor or a lawyer.
Upon marrying his wife, Coretta, he realized that it was not very easy for him to go on a honeymoon due to his skin color, so they ended up having it at a friend’s funeral parlor.
While he was at a book signing in 1958 he was stabbed by a woman who was later concluded to be mentally ill. The knife passed so close to his aorta that doctors said even so much as a sneeze could have killed him.
And a pretty big one at that. In fact, he was so into Star Trek that he managed to convince Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, to stay on the show beyond the first season.
Partly as a result of his friendship with Stanley Levinson, a New York attorney who had ties to the Communist Party USA, the FBI monitored him heavily. In fact, after his “I Have A Dream” speech he was declared “the most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country.”
Unfortunately it wasn’t until the late 70’s, however, that the FBI admitted to not finding any evidence to incriminate him.
The final and most famous part of this speech, the part from which it derives its name, was actually a masterful piece of improvisation on behalf of King.
In 1964, at the age of 35, King won the Nobel Peace Prize. To this day he is still the youngest male to ever receive it.
Walter Fluker once said, “I don’t believe there would be a Martin Luther King Jr. without a Howard Thurman. To King, Thurman was a mentor and he would seek his advice even later in life.
Although he is most famously remembered for his work towards racial equality, he also gave several speeches condemning the Vietnam War shortly before his death.
His speech Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam went on to win him a posthumous Grammy and he has also been awarded the Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honors an American civilian can receive.
Although he didn’t advocate full reparations for slavery he did believe that even if they were given equality, black Americans would still be at a disadvantage economically. He therefore petitioned the government to apportion $50 billion to create economic equality as well.
As a result of helping organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted 385 days, King was not only arrested but his house was also bombed.
Tragically his mother, Alberta Williams, was also killed in her Atlanta church in 1974.
Upon autopsy following his assassination, it was found that although King was only 39, he had the heart of a 60 year old. Doctors concluded that this was probably due to the heavy stress he faced in his life.
There are two places outside of the United States that celebrate MLK day: Toronto, Canada and Hiroshima, Japan.
King studied Gandhi’s ideas of peaceful resistance extensively and even ended up taking a trip to India at one point. Upon returning he was convinced that non-violent resistance was the way to go.
In almost every major city in American, and dozens of small ones, there is bound to be a street bearing his name. This is in addition, of course, to all of the buildings, schools, etc. that are also named after him.
As accepted as it is today, there was a lot of opposition to the idea of MLK day initially. It was shot down in the House at first and critics argued that another national holiday would be too expensive. Eventually, though, it was signed into law by President Reagan and the first MLK day was celebrated in 1986.
Despite being enacted in 1983, all fifty states didn’t observe MLK day until 17 years later.
There are only two other people in American history that have national holidays honoring them – George Washington, and Christopher Columbus.