The awe-inspiring quality of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life is so well-established in our collective awareness that finer nuances of his biography are all too often forgotten. In honor of his legacy, Culture Trip has compiled a list of ten amazing facts about the man, which add to his legendary status in world history.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the few people who has had such a profound impact on life and society. King, a Baptist clergyman who was influenced by other nonviolence advocates, encouraged oppressed and socially disadvantaged African Americans to struggle for equality through nonviolent demonstrations. Despite being slain in April 1968, King was a leading influence behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which contributed to the ending of legal segregation. Dr. Martin Luther King’s life was marked by adversity and struggle, as well as optimism and the creation of community – the relationships he formed and the strides he helped to achieve revolutionized America and sent shockwaves around the world.
1. Michael was King’s given name when he was born. Michael King Jr was born on January 15, 1929, to Michael King Sr and Alberta Williams King, civil rights activists. In 1934, his father, a minister at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and was influenced by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. King Sr. — and later his son – began using the name, Martin Luther King.
2. He was the youngest person to earn the Nobel Peace Prize at the time. Martin Luther King Jr. was 35 years old when he got the Nobel Peace Prize for nonviolently opposing racial inequity. He was the youngest individual to do so at the time. His prize included a $54,123 check, which he donated to various civil rights organizations, including the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the National Council of Negro Women, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and others.
Read more: Jesus Facts: 20 Interesting Facts!
3. King traveled over 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times between 1957 and 1968. King was elected president of the SCLC in 1957, an organization founded to promote the expanding civil rights movement; he oversaw the organization from its establishment until his assassination in 1968. The SCLC was founded on Christian beliefs and attempted to progress the civil rights struggle in a peaceful manner. King followed Gandhi’s ideas and acted on Christian values without resorting to violence. He traveled across the country, giving speeches and protesting in various towns. During this time, King also released five books and numerous essays.
4. The civil rights activist was detained 29 times and beaten four times during his lifetime. Despite the fact that many people adored King, police officials saw him as a threat to American security. He was detained approximately 30 times for acts of ‘civil disobedience,’ including in 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama when he was caught speeding five miles per hour over the speed limit. Even the FBI was concerned, as evidenced by paper trails indicating that the agency had continued to try to stifle King’s development. The FBI ramped up its probe into King and the SCLC after his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
5. King is the only non-president to be honored with a national holiday. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a measure designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday. He is the only non-president to earn such a distinction; George Washington is the only other American to have a holiday named after him. The holiday was originally observed in 1986 on the third Monday in January, just before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15. In addition, he is the first non-resident to have a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Read more: Albert Einstein: 30 Interesting Facts!
6. King received 20 honorary degrees and was voted Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” King received 20 honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the United States and around the world during his lifetime. He was the first African American to be selected ‘Man of the Year’ by Time magazine in 1963. The homage includes a cover photo and a seven-page piece with photos from some of his most famous incidents, including a visit with President Lyndon B Johnson and his incarceration in Alabama in 1963.
7. In the United States, there are roughly 900 streets named after Martin Luther King Jr. According to Derek Alderman, the chairman of the geography department at the University of Tennessee, there are about 900 streets in the United States named after King. Following his assassination in 1968, cities across the country began renaming and renaming streets in his honor, including countries such as Italy and Israel. Every year, the number of streets grows by 70% in Southern states such as Alabama, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
8. King came close to being killed ten years before his death. King was in Harlem on September 20, 1958, signing copies of his new book, Stride Toward Freedom, at Blumstein’s, a local department store. Izola Ware Curry approached him and inquired whether he was Martin Luther King Jr. She said, “I’ve been seeking for you for five years,” and shoved a letter opener into his chest when he answered yes. The blade, placed right along the side of his aorta, came dangerously near to piercing his heart. King survived surgery after several hours, but doctors later warned him that “just one sneeze might have pierced the aorta” and killed him. Later, King said he had no bad feelings toward the woman in a statement.
9. A gunman assassinated his mother as well. Alberta Williams King was shot on June 30, 1974, by a crazed gunman who claimed Christians were his enemies and that he had received “divine instructions” to kill King’s father. Alberta, who played the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sundays, was closer to the perpetrator, so he chose to shoot her instead. The guy was found guilty and sentenced to death, but his sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison, largely due to King’s family’s opposition to capital punishment.
10. King’s final public statement hinted at his impending death. King flew to Memphis the night before his death to give a speech in support of the city’s African American sanitation employees. “Desire anyone, I would like to live a long life,” he addressed the gathering at Mason Temple Church. Longevity has a place in the world. But I’m not worried about it right now… The Promised Land has been glimpsed by me. It’s possible that I won’t be able to accompany you. But I want you to know tonight that we shall reach the Promised Land as a people. And I’m in a good mood tonight. I am unconcerned about anything. I have no fear of men. My eyes have seen the splendor of the Lord’s arrival.”