Celebrating MLK Jr. Day

Eight Facts You Might Not Know

MLK JrMartin Luther King, Jr., was a transformative figure in American history. And while many know about his “I Have a Dream” speech given at the Lincoln Memorial, or even the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (in which he outlines the importance of using non-violent action to stand up to injustice), there are a few things about him that some people might not know.

He graduated high school at 15

King actually skipped both 9th and 11th grades, and started attending Morehouse College at just 15 years old. His age was apparently not an issue: he earned a Bachelor’s in Sociology by the time was 19.

He wasn’t named Martin

His actual name at birth was Michael. His father (Michael King, Sr.) made a trip to Germany in 1931, after which he changed his name Martin in honor of religious leader Martin Luther, and changed the name of his then-two-year-old son as well.

He had an unusual wedding night

Due to segregation, he and his new wife, Corretta, didn’t have anywhere to stay on their wedding night, as no hotels would rent them a room. Instead, they spent it at a black-owned funeral parlor.

He affected several acting and science careers

Star Trek had just finished its first season, and actress Nichelle Nichols (who played Uhura) was going to quit. King convinced her to stay with it, as she had become an amazing role model for many—she was a smart black woman treated as an equal among the crew. Actress Whoopi Goldberg and astronaut Ronald McNair (who was just the second black person in space) both credit Nichols’ character for inspiring them to going into their respective careers.

He got a C in public speaking

While known as an impressive orator, one of his seminary teachers apparently wasn’t impressed, giving him a C in class. It didn’t seem to matter, as he wound up finishing with straight As and as valedictorian of his class (not to mention student body president).

He essentially died broke

Despite the money he earned from his Nobel Prize and several books, he died without much of it due to donating most to the cause of civil rights. (He also didn’t have a will, leading to a great deal of legal issues surrounding the rights to his speeches and likeness.)

He has a Grammy

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Congressional Gold Medal, and a Medal of Freedom, he also received a Grammy for his 1971 spoken-word album, “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”

His special day is rare

King is one of just three individuals to have an American holiday specifically in his honor, and the only American-born one. (The other two: George Washington, who was born in Virginia before the U.S. was founded; and Christopher Columbus, who was born in Genoa, Italy.) It did, however, take 17 years for every state to observe it—the last being Utah, in 2000.

As he once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” By that measure, MLK, Jr., can be measured among the greatest.


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