The post World War II United States was marked with events and occurrences that changed the course of the nation’s history. Whether it is the end of McCarthyism (accusing someone of treason without substantial proof) or formation of the first-ever senate special committee to investigate organized crimes, the 1950s had a significant impact on the modern American society.
That era, however, will always be remembered for the struggle and perseverance of African Americans to put an end to prolonged racial discrimination, segregation in the country. The American Civil Rights Movement had several influential faces, but perhaps the most important of them was none other than Martin Luther King Jr.
Below, we have compiled some of the most interesting and inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. facts.
Table of Contents
16. King was Born Micheal, Not Martin
King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 4, 1929, as Micheal King Jr. But in 1934, at the age of 5, his name was changed to Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1929, his father, King Sr. (who was a pastor), was on a foreign tour, during which he met the Protestant Reformation leader and professor Martin Luther in Berlin, Germany.
Influenced by the reformation leader, King Sr., upon returning to the United States, changed his name to Martin Luther King Sr. and his son’s to Martin Luther King Jr.
15. King Received His Doctorate in Systematic Theology
After completing his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary (Pennsylvania) in 1951, King went to Boston University to pursue doctoral studies in systematic theology.
He received his degree in 1955. His doctoral thesis, titled “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”
During his time in Boston, MLK also served as an assistant minister at renowned Twelfth Baptist Church under Reverend William H. Hester. A long-time family friend, reverend Hester was one of the influential people in King’s life.
14. King Made Multiple Suicide Attempts
During his childhood, King was close to his grandmother, Jennie, whom he affectionately called “Mama.” While playing with one of his siblings, Jennie was inadvertently hit, causing her to fall unconsciously.
Believing she is dead, King held himself responsible for her current state and tried to commit suicide. He jumped off from the second-floor window but eventually survived.
A few years later, while attending a parade (which he did by escaping studies), King received news that something terrible has happened to his maternal grandmother. He then found out that she suffered from a heart attack and was taken to the hospital where she died.
King again blamed himself, believing that she died because of his wrongdoings. He attempted suicide for the second time but again survived.
13. Martin Luther King, Jr. Led the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955 | Image Courtesy: USIA
The infamous Montgomery bus incident occurred on December 1, 1955, in which civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger.
While she was not the first person to denounce segregation in public transports, her arrest for breaking state’s segregation laws made her an influential character in the early years of the American Civil Rights Movement.
The incident led to the famous Montgomery bus boycott campaign led by Rosa Parks, E.D Nixon, and Martin Luther King Jr. It lasted for more than one year and ended on December 20, 1956, with the United States Supreme Court ruling to outlaw segregation in buses in the state of Alabama.
It was during this campaign that Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the leader and a national figure of African Americans for the first time.
12. MLK Was Arrested Nearly Thirty Times In His Lifetime
Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested not once, not twice but twenty-nine times on acts of civil disobedience. During the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, he was arrested and jailed for driving above the speed limit.
During the Albany Movement in 1962, after being swept in a mass arrest, King was offered an option to either pay fine ($178) or jail for forty-five days. He chose jail time.
King was again arrested in 1963 (his 13th out of total 29 arrests) during the Birmingham campaign. While serving jail time, King wrote a now-famous open letter, advocating for nonviolent protests.
11. King’s Birthday Is Observed As A Federal Holiday In the United States
In 1983, to commemorate King’s life, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that made Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. However, it was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. From the year 2000, onward, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially celebrated in all fifty U.S states.
10. His mother was also Gunned Down
Martin Luther King Jr. with Henry Elkins (at the center) and Alberta King at Ebeneezer church in 1962
About six years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., his mother, Alberta Williams King, was shot dead at the age of 69. On June 30, 1974, a lone gunman (later identified as Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr.) open fired on Alberta Williams King inside the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
During the interrogation, the perpetrator revealed his hatred towards Christians and that all black ministers are a threat to black people. He also confessed that his initial target was King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr., but he chose to shoot Alberta King since she was closer.
9. King Was Under Severe FBI Surveillance For Five Years
Dr. King with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House Cabinet Room in 1966
In 1975, the U.S Senate launched a select committee, known as the Church Committee, to investigate human rights violations and abuses by the nations’ intelligence and Federal law enforcement agencies.
The special committee report revealed that from 1963 until his assassination in 1968, King was under targeted surveillance from the FBI. The committee also concluded that the surveillance on Martin Luther King Jr. was done to diminish his influence as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
8. King Was Accused of Adultery
In his autobiography, “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down,” civil rights activist Ralph David Abernathy briefly discussed Dr. King’s “weakness for women.” Abernathy explained that even though King believed in the (biblical) prohibition of extramarital affairs, the temptation made it difficult for him.
Abernathy, however, later clarified he didn’t mean that King actually had an extramarital affair and that King’s adultery was rather emotional and not physical.
Another prominent literary piece stating King’s infidelity is from American author David Garrow, who alleged that, for King, extramarital affairs are “a form of anxiety reduction.”
Being wary of King’s connections with communist elements, the FBI initiated a series of investigations to erode his rising influence in public. Revelations about his private life was an attempt to do the same.
7. His Famous “I Have a Dream” Speech
Martin Luther King Jr. during the speech at Lincoln Memorial in 1963
King delivered his most iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington campaign at the Lincoln Memorial.
“I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream …”
The speech invokes several essential pieces of modern American history, including the Deceleration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation.
6. He Was Blackmailed By The FBI
On November 21, 1964, King and his wife received a package from an anonymous sender. Inside the package was a letter and a voice recording presumably revealing King’s extramarital sexual encounters.
It’s unclear precisely what course of action the letter was urging King to take. While he interpreted it a provocation to commit suicide, others believed that it was intended to convince Dr. King to decline the Nobel Prize, and (or) step down from the leadership.
King was, however, able to correctly suspect that the package was sent by the FBI, but he refused to give in to their blackmailing.
5. NSA Also Had Their Sights On Dr. King
According to recently declassified documents, the National Security Agency, or NSA, monitored communications of several influential Americans during the Vietnam War.
Though the covert NSA operation, code-named “Minaret,” first came to light in the 1970s, the agency decided to reveal the few names of people on its watch list for the first time in 2013.
Among those were Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, and Whitney Young.
4. He Was The Youngest Nobel Prize Winner At That Time
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize on October 14, 1964, for leading a nonviolent movement against racial discrimination and prejudice in the United States. At that time, he became the youngest person to receive the award.
In 1977, almost a decade after his death, the then U.S President Jimmy Carter awarded King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.
3. He Barely Escaped An Attempt On His Life A Decade Before His Death
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, and died on Hospital bed. However, it was not the first time that an attempt on his life was made. On September 20, 1958, about a decade before his death, Dr. King was attending a book signing ceremony at a Harlem department store.
In the midst of the event, a woman in her early forties approached King and asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After getting the affirmation, the woman took out a steel letter opener and plunged it into his chest. The assailant was later identified as Izola Curry.
Though King was critically injured, he was able to survive after hours-long surgery.
2. King’s last public speech Foresaw his death
The day before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. He appeared in front of city’s African American sanitation workers in support of their strike (due to poor working conditions) calling for unity, boycotts, and nonviolence.
The speech is popularly named as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Towards the end of his speech, MLK referred to threats against his life.
“Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
“And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
1. Members of His family Believed King’s Death Was Part of A Conspiracy
The Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
James Earl Ray, the prime suspect of King’s assassination, was apprehended on June 8, 1968, two months after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. from London Heathrow airport. Two days later, he confessed to the crime and pleaded guilty without a trial.
A year later, in an interesting turn of events, King’s son requested to reopen the case, and that Ray receives a trial. Coretta Scott, King’s widow, suspected that King’s murder was part of a larger conspiracy involving the local mafia and government agencies.
A United States Department of Justice investigation conducted in 2000 found the allegation of such conspiracy to be false.