Born with a different name
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.
Was a prodigious student
He skipped two grades and left for college before formally graduating high school.
Received a bachelors degree at 19
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.
Didn’t want to become a minister at first
Originally King had decided against entering the ministry and was considering becoming a doctor or a lawyer.
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Spent honeymoon in a funeral parlor
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.
Stabbed by a mentally ill woman
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.
He was a Trekkie
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.
FBI tapped him
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.”
In spite of rumors there is no evidence he had Communist ties
Unfortunately it wasn’t until the late 70’s, however, that the FBI admitted to not finding any evidence to incriminate him.
I Have A Dream improvisation
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.
Youngest male to win Nobel Peace Prize
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.
Howard Thurman was an early mentor
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.
Advocated against Vietnam War
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.
Won posthumous Grammy and Medal of Freedom
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.
Favored partial reparations
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.
House was bombed
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.
Not the only member of his family to be assassinated
Tragically his mother, Alberta Williams, was also killed in her Atlanta church in 1974.
His heart was 20 years older than him
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.
MLK Day in other countries
There are two places outside of the United States that celebrate MLK day: Toronto, Canada and Hiroshima, Japan.
Influenced by a trip to India
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.
Name is on more than 700 streets
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.
Idea of MLK day was very divisive at first
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.
All 50 states didn’t observe MLK day until 2000
Despite being enacted in 1983, all fifty states didn’t observe MLK day until 17 years later.
Only US citizen who never held office to have a holiday named after him
There are only two other people in American history that have national holidays honoring them – George Washington, and Christopher Columbus.