Well respected, honored and appreciated for his civil rights activism, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rightfully earned his place as one of the most influential figures in American and world history. Through his religious teachings and social activism, Dr. King played a key role in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
While Dr. King lived a good portion of his life in the public eye, many facts of his life are not widely known. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 18, the following are some interesting and less publicized facts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth name was not “Martin,” but “Michael.” Dr. King’s father traveled to Germany and became inspired by Protestant reformer Martin Luther and thus changed his name while also changing the name of his then 5-year-old-son.
Dr. King was a prodigious student. Not only did he skip two grades and start college before formally graduating high school, but Dr. King also earned a bachelor’s degree at age 19, graduating from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in sociology.
Though not a singer, Dr. King earned a posthumous Grammy Award nonetheless. In 1971, Dr. King was awarded Best Spoken Word album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”
Although people cannot readily find photographs of Dr. King smoking, he was a regular smoker and even hid the habit from the public and from his children so they wouldn’t take up smoking. It was believed Dr. King was smoking a cigarette when he was fatally shot.
While Dr. King is remembered as an enthralling public speaker, he actually scored poorly in public speaking during his first year at seminary. He received a “C” in the class but earned straight “As” by his final year.
Dr. King was a “Star Trek” fan. He convinced actress Nichelle Nichols, who played the role of “Uhura” on the show, to continue working with the series. Nichols was considering leaving, but Dr. King told her she was breaking boundaries by playing a character who didn’t conform to black stereotypes.
Dr. King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on September 20, 1958. On that day, Dr. King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” when he was approached by a woman who stabbed him with a letter opener. He barely survived.
Dr. King’s speech in Memphis in April 1968 may have prophesied his death. Speaking to an audience at Mason Temple Church, King said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
Dr. King’s birthday is now observed as a national holiday in the United States. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill in 1983. The only other American to earn this honor is George Washington.