12 Little Known Facts about Martin Luther King Jr.

Culture | March 21, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a famous social activist that played a critical role in the American Civil Rights Movement.

I am confident in declaring that Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. is most definitely one of the most famous social activists in the world, to date. Dr. King was best known for being a critical and peaceful role in the American Civil Rights Movement. He traveled countless miles to fight against the injustice of racial inequality.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister who made it his business to deliver thousands of speeches in the effort to promote equality. He led a high-profile adult life. For all of his human and civil rights efforts, hundreds of streets, buildings, parks and schools have been named after the iconic leader.

When a person is in the spotlight, there is usually a familiarity the public identifies with. We feel as if we know the public figure on a very personal level. There were, however, many things we never knew about Dr. King. Sometimes people forget that public figures have private lives. Below is a list of facts about the famous civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that might surprise you.

Martin Luther King Jr. Was Originally Named Michael King Jr.

King’s father was the Reverend Michael King, Sr., and he initially named his son after himself. King Sr. traveled to Germany in the 1930’s, and was “taken” and inspired by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. So much so, that he legally changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr. After changing his own name, he legally changed his son’s name to match his own.

MLK, Jr. smoked cigarettes.

He was not proud of the fact that he smoked cigarettes. MLK tried desperately to keep the habit a secret from his family, friends and the media, but he was a lifelong smoker.

MLK, Jr. was brilliant!

Martin Luther King Jr. began attending college at the age 15. He was so intelligent that he skipped grades ahead of his peers. He attended Morehouse College where he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology.

MLK, Jr. won a Grammy Award!

As a child, King sang in the choir at his church. He sang at premiere of, “Gone With The Wind,” although he wasn’t known for his singing abilities. In fact, it wasn’t until 1971 that King won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. The delayed honor was awarded to King for his album, “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”

MLK, Jr. was a Sci-Fi fan and a huge Trekkie!

King was so enamored with “Star Trek” and the fact that Nichelle Nichols, an African American actress, was part of the cast, was just icing on the cake! Sure, she was pretty, but he considered it a stride in equality. Nichols played Uhura on the show and was one of the first African American characters that didn’t conform to black stereotypes. When she considered leaving after the first season, King convinced her to stay.

MLK, Jr. spent his wedding night in a funeral home.

In 1953, there was no such thing as a honeymoon suite for African Americans. Hotels and motels refused to rent to them. That being the case, King took his new bride, Coretta Scott King, to a friend’s funeral home for the night. Now that is a honeymoon… NOT!

MLK, Jr. was the youngest male to have won a Nobel Peace Prize. After winning the prestigious award at age 35, he donated all of his prize money to the civil rights movement.

MLK, Jr. was under extreme stress his entire life.

As you know, King was assassinated in 1968 while standing on a balcony outside his hotel room in Memphis, TN. The subsequent autopsy revealed that at the age of 39 years old, his heart more so resembled that of a 60-year-old. The cause was likely due to stress; which really shouldn’t come as any surprise.

Martin Luther King Jr. is the only person to have a national holiday named in his honor who was not a President.

MLK, Jr. was jailed a total of 29 times!

King walked around with a target on his back. He was charged with everything from speeding to acts of civil disobedience. Because of this, he was arrested 29 times! King recognized that this went with the territory of being a civil rights activist. In spite of his many arrests, he was still regarded as one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.

MLK, Jr. survived being stabbed with a seven-inch letter opener.

Izola Ware Curry stabbed King with a seven-inch letter opener in 1958 at a book signing. The letter opener landed so close to his aorta that it took hours to remove it. So, why did she do it? Well, Curry, who was an African American, claimed that she had been waiting to see him for over five years! Well, to be honest, she wasn’t just being impatient… she was mentally ill.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life for what he believed in. His contribution to the civil rights movement will forever go down in history.

Tags: Martin Luther King Jr. | Rare Facts And Stories About History | The 1970s | The Civil Rights Movement | Trivia Questions And Answers

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.