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15 things you may not have known about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  

At a young age, American students learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent cause to unravel segregation and inequality in the United States. We remember him mostly by his iconic speeches and marches, but there is a lot more to the civil rights leader.

Martin Luther King, Jr. at age six. Civil Rights Activist. Family photo

Martin Luther King, Jr. at age six.
Civil Rights Activist. Family photo

  1. King was born Michael King Jr. but in 1934, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebhenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and was inspired by protestant reformation leader Martin Luther. King Sr. changed his name as well as his 5-year-old son.
  2. King entered college at age 15 and graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 at the age of 19.
  3. He was arrested 30 times.
  4. King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, was shot and killed on June 30, 1974, as she played the organ at a Sunday service at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The gunman said Christians were his enemy before killing her. A deacon also died during the shooting. The gunman received a death penalty sentence but it was later changed to life imprisonment, partly due to the family’s opposition to capital punishment.
  5. King’s younger brother Alvin Daniel King had a suspicious death on July 21, 1969. The morning after a reportedly anguished phone call, his body was discovered  in the bottom of his swimming pool. He was 38.
  6. Izola Curry stabbed King in the chest with a letter opener in 1959 during a book signing. Diagnosed with a mental illness, she’d approached King and asked if it was really him. When he replied “yes,” she said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” before stabbing him near the heart.
  7. King wasn’t the only person to die at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Following the assassination, hotel worker Lorraine Bailey had a heart attack upon seeing King getting shot and she later died.

    Creative Commons

  8. King was a trekkie. He convinced Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on Star Trek, to continue on with the role after the first season. He didn’t want her to leave the show because she was playing a character that didn’t conform to the stereotypical black person of the day.
  9. King donated the $54,123 (about $400,000 today) he received for his Nobel Peace Prize to the civil rights movement.
  10. He won a Grammy in 1971 for Best Spoken Word Album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”
  11. King had a bad heart. An autopsy showed how stress had taken a toll on his body.  At 39, he had the “the heart of a 60-year-old,” according to a report.
  12. Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t officially observed by all 50 states until 2000.  Arizona joined  in 1992, New Hampshire in 1999, and Utah in 2000.  The holiday was signed into federal law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, and was first observed  as a holiday on Jan. 20, 1986.
  13. More than 700 streets in the United States are named after Martin Luther King Jr.
  14. He tried to kill himself when he was 12.  He’d attended a parade against his parent’s wishes, instead of staying to watch his younger brother. His grandmother died from a heart attack that day. King blamed himself for that and jumped from a second story window in the family home.
  15. The FBI surveyed King and even tried to get him to commit suicide.
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