Martin Luther King Jr. is no doubt one of the most famous social activists in the world. Known for playing a critical, peaceful and persistent role in the American Civil Rights Movement, the Baptist minister delivered thousands of speeches and travelled countless miles to fight for equality.
Yet despite his high profile life—hundreds of streets, buildings, parks and schools now bear his name—there are still many things we don’t know about Dr King. Here are 10 facts about Martin Luther King Jr. that might surprise you:-
- His name was originally Michael, not Martin. His father was also Michael King, hence why Martin Luther King Jr. was originally named Michael King Jr. However, after a trip to Germany in 1931, Michael King Sr. changed his own name in homage to historic German theologian Martin Luther. Michael King Jr. was two years old at the time and King Sr. made the decision to change his son’s name to Martin Luther as well.
- At the age of 12, he seems to have tried to commit suicide. It was May of 1941 when his grandmother passed away after a heart attack. At the time of this event, King Jr. was off disobeying his parents by going to watch a parade when they told him not to.
- King wasn’t the only one to die at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. After he was killed, one of the hotel workers, Lorraine Bailey (who was also the wife of the motel owner and who it was named after), upon seeing King get shot, had a heart attack and later died from this.
- King Jr. skipped two grades in high school, 9th and 11th, and entered college (Moorehouse College) at the tender age of 15 in 1944. By 19, he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
- He later decided that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape” and chose to become a minister, entering the seminary at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He graduated with his PhD in sociology.
- His honeymoon was spent at a funeral parlour… not because someone died, simply because a friend owned the parlour and offered to let him use it for his honeymoon.
- King is to date the youngest male to win a Nobel Peace Prize, winning it in 1964 at the age of 35 (at the time he was the youngest overall for the Peace Prize). The youngest ever to win the Peace prize today is Malala Yousafzai who won it in 2014 at the age of 17.
- There are only two other people in American history that have a national holiday in their honour, George Washington and Christopher Columbus. As such, Martin Luther King Jr. is the only native-born United States citizen to have a national holiday in his honour.
- Today over 700 streets in the United States are named after Martin Luther King Jr., with one such street in almost every major city. This is not even counting the amazing number of buildings, schools, and the like named after him.
- George Washington is the only other American to have had his birthday observed as a national holiday.
- In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honour King. The holiday, first commemorated in 1986, is celebrated on the third Monday in January, close to the civil rights leader’s January 15 birthday.