Social Activist and Humanitarian, Martins Luther King Jr. is no doubt one of the most important figures in the American Civil Rights Movement.
A Baptist minister inspired by other advocates of nonviolence, King encouraged oppressed and socially disadvantaged African-Americans to fight for equality through peaceful protest.
He helped to organize the March on Washington, where he delivered his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, and played a pivotal role in other significant events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
1. Martins Luther played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968.
2. King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin. The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, travelled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.
3. King entered college at the age of 15. King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather.
4. After earning a divinity degree from Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary, King attended graduate school at Boston University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1955.
5. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35. This made him the youngest male recipient of the prestigious award. He donated the entire prize of $54,123 (now equivalent to $400,000) to the civil rights movement. Martin won dozens more awards for his work including the Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, and a Grammy. The Grammy was for Best Spoken Word Album, awarded in 1971 for King’s “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”
6. Martin Luther King Jr. was targeted by the FBI for being “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.” Records of Martin taken by the FBI are held in the National Achieve but remain sealed from public access until 2027.
7. Before his assassination, there were other attempt. On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, stride toward freedom, at a local department store, Blumstein’s. A woman named Izola Ware Curry approached him, asking if he was Martin Luther King. When he replied yes, she said ‘I’ve been looking for you for five years,’ and stuck a letter opener into his chest. The blade came close to penetrating his heart, nestled just along the side of his aorta. After several hours of surgery, King emerged alive; doctors later told him that ‘just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta’ and killed him. King later issued a statement that he felt no anger or ill will toward the woman.
8. On the night before his assassination, MLK came to Memphis to give a speech in support of the city’s African-American garbage workers. At Mason Temple Church, he told the crowd, ‘Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now… 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. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’
9. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial. Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.
10. King was imprisoned nearly 30 times. According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.