Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 until his assassination in 1968. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
He is often remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he spoke of his dream of a United States that is racially integrated and that recognizes the dignity and worth of every person. Dr. King’s legacy continues to inspire and influence people around the world today.
Here’s 5 amazing things we did not know about M.L.K.
- King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial 6 years before his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Six years prior to his famous speech at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the civil rights leaders who spoke at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. He delivered his first national address on voting rights to an estimated crowd of 15,000 to 30,000 people, in the shadow of the Great Emancipator. His speech, in which he called for America to grant African Americans the right to vote, was well-received and helped establish him as a prominent figure in the civil rights movement.
- He was born a Michael and not a Martin.
Martin Luther King Jr. was originally named Michael King Jr. at birth on January 15, 1929. However, in 1934, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, was inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther during a trip to Germany. As a result, King Sr. decided to change his own name as well as that of his five-year-old son, Michael King Jr. to Martin Luther King Jr.
- He started college at just 15!
Martin Luther King Jr. was a highly gifted student, who, due to his exceptional abilities, skipped grades nine and twelve before enrolling at Morehouse College in 1944. Morehouse College was the alma mater of both his father and maternal grandfather. Despite being the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not initially intend to follow in the family tradition until he was convinced otherwise by Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a renowned theologian. King was ordained before graduating college, where he earned a degree in sociology.
- Ten years earlier, he was almost assassinated.
On September 20, 1958, while signing copies of his book “Stride Toward Freedom” in a department store in Harlem, Martin Luther King Jr. was approached by Izola Ware Curry. Curry, who had been searching for him for five years, stabbed him with a seven-inch letter opener, causing the blade to come to rest alongside his aorta. King underwent emergency surgery and was told that a single sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. Despite this, King issued a statement from his hospital bed, where he convalesced for weeks, affirming his belief in nonviolence and expressing no ill will towards his mentally ill attacker.
- His Mother was also killed by a bullet.
On June 30, 1974, 69-year-old Alberta Williams King was playing the organ at a Sunday service in Ebenezer Baptist Church when Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. stood up from the front pew and began firing shots from two pistols. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who was steps away from where her son had preached about nonviolence. The gunman, who had a history of mental illness, stated that Christians were his enemy and that he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was also in the congregation, but killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. A church deacon also died in the shooting. Chenault was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was later changed to life imprisonment due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.