18 Lesser-Known Facts About Martin Luther King

SharePinEmailMartin Luther King Jr. is one of the most iconic figures in American history. A Baptist Minister and Civil Rights activist, he played a key role in ending the segregation of Black Americans and the development of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.  There isn’t a speech more famous than Martin Luther King’s “I Have…

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most iconic figures in American history. A Baptist Minister and Civil Rights activist, he played a key role in ending the segregation of Black Americans and the development of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. 

There isn’t a speech more famous than Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream,” and his words changed the course of history, with many still reciting verses from this iconic oration 60 years later. 

Here are 18 interesting facts about Martin Luther King Jr. that you didn’t know:

Original Name 

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Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr, but his father was so inspired by the work of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, that he changed both his name and his sons, after a trip to Germany in 1934.  

A Child Prodigy

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Not many people know that King was considered to be so intelligent by his teachers that he was moved up two grades and entered college at the age of 15, graduating with a BA in Sociology at only 19. 

Public Speaking 

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They say that public speaking is a learned skill, and maybe they are right as Martin Luther King Jr. was only awarded a C in his public speaking class at Crozer Theological Seminary. This certainly wasn’t an indication of the iconic orator that King would go on to become, but my goodness, he went on to become a masterful speaker. 

Youngest Nobel Laureate

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In 1964, King Jr. became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35, which at that time, as a young Black American male, was considered to be a groundbreaking achievement. 

FBI Surveillance

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It has recently come to light that during his civil rights activism, Martin Luther King Jr. was under intense surveillance by the FBI, and he was secretly recorded by officers in an attempt to discredit his reputation. 

He Nearly Didn’t Have a Dream 

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The iconic line “I Have a Dream” was not in the original draft of his speech. A gospel singer called Mahalia Jackson asked King Jr. to tell people about “The Dream,” and this inspired King to include the famous quote. 

Assassination Attempt

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Almost a decade before his actual assassination, King Jr. was stabbed by an unstable woman in 1958, and he narrowly survived the attack. This event made King aware of the risks involved in playing such a public, prominent role in the civil rights movement, however, he appeared to accept that the risk to his own life was a price he would have to pay to achieve equal rights for the African American people. 

First African American TIME Man of the Year 

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In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. became the first African American man to be named TIME’s Man of The Year, this was considered to be another groundbreaking achievement for King as his portrait was splashed across the cover of one of America’s most prestigious magazines, and no one could escape his image, or his civil rights message. 

Against War in Vietnam

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King gave a highly influential speech about why he opposed the war in Vietnam, called “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” and he was awarded a posthumous Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.

Gun Permit Application 

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During a period of intense violence and intimidation, King applied for a gun permit in an attempt to protect his family. Shortly after, King decided to commit fully to a life of non-violence; a brave, and courageous decision.   

King’s Mother Was Also Assassinated

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother was also assassinated in 1972 while playing a church organ. This is such a sad story, and it appears that not only did King lose his own life fighting for peace and equality, but his beloved mother, Alberta Williams King, also lost hers. 

Financial Hardship

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Despite his infamous, legendary status King did not enjoy financial wealth, and he died without much money or, indeed, a will. Sadly, after his death, his family experienced financial hardship but were supported by the kindness of King’s admirers and followers. 

MLK Day 

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A national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK Day) first began in 1986 and was inspired greatly by Stevie Wonder who helped to campaign for a national day to be dedicated to the memory of King. This, plus a petition with 6 million signatures pushed the American government to declare a national MLK Day. 

Arrested Almost 30 Times 

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Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested close to 30 times on numerous charges of civil disobedience, and also on several fabricated, trumped-up charges aimed at frustrating his campaign for civil rights. 

Malcolm X 

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Although Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are often thought of in the same sentence, they only ever met once, but, as they were both prominent figures in the civil rights movement at the same time, people tend to imagine them as close allies who worked together. 

A Fan of Star Trek

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King was a fan of Star Trek and reportedly advised Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, to keep her part on the show as she was setting a positive example for African Americans in popular culture. 

Name on Birth Certificate 

Editorial credit: Marion S. Trikosko/Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

King’s name was only officially updated on his birth certificate in 1957, as before this time, he was still officially registered as Michael King Jr. 

Conspiracy Theories Around His Assassination 

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King’s family still believes to this day that his assassination was part of a corrupt government attempt to remove him from the American civil rights movement, even though an investigation by the justice system in 2000 found no evidence of this. 

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