Martin Luther King, Jr. was the face of the Civil Rights movement in the United States and this is why he is so rightly remembered. He was killed at the age of 39 because he was willing to stand up for the equal rights of his people. Rather than settle for a separate-but-equal compromise that was being pushed for at the time, MLK wanted true equality. It may have cost him his life, but his work has lived on for generations.
Although his life has been well documented over the years, there are some interesting facts about Martin Luther King, Jr. that you may not know.
1. Martin Wasn’t His Real Name
MLK was actually born with the name Michael. That was also his father’s name. In 1931, however, MLK’s father became the pastor of a baptist church in Atlanta and this caused him to adopt the name Martin Luther King. When MLK was 6 years old, his father officially changed his name on his birth certificate to reflect the change for his son as well. Would Michael King have been able to create the same lasting change? No one will ever now.
What we do know is that young MLK loved to sing in his father’s church. In a very pointing moment, he sang in the church choir during the gala premiere of Gone With the Wind in Atlanta. With his life, he constantly proved that he really did “give a damn.”
2. He Had an Old Man’s Heart
There is no doubt that MLK was under a lot of stress in life. People were threatening his family, sometimes on a daily basis. Being the face of social change meant that there were long hours that needed to be worked, new ideas that needed to be introduced to people every day, and repetitive challenges that didn’t allow for much coping. In some ways, it is pretty amazing that MLK could do as much as he did.
When the autopsy was performed on King after the successful assassination, the doctors noticed something unique about his heart. Although MLK was just 39, the heart looked like it belonged to a 60 year old man. Another contributor was his regular smoking habit. King smoked regularly, although he kept it under wraps because he didn’t want others to see him as a role model who used cigarettes.
3. He Was a Genius
MLK entered college at the age of 15. That’s because he was able to skip his freshman and senior year of high school because of his intelligence. This gave him a leg up on the advanced schooling that he eventually received, gaining a bachelor’s in theology and a second in sociology. In 1955, he was awarded a doctorate from Boston University. He wasn’t even 30 yet at the time. By the age of 39, he’d already had more life experience and education than most people who were in their 50’s.
4. There Are 900 Streets Named After Him
In the United States, there are 40 states that have at least one street named after MLK. Around the world, there are more than 900 streets named after him as well. For a man who had to spend his wedding night in a Blacks only funeral home because the local White hotel rejected him and his money, that’s a pretty lasting legacy.
So are the 2,500 speeches that he ended up giving over the course of 11 years when he traveled the country and the world to advocate for equal rights. In total, King journeyed more than 6 million miles and reached countless more millions through his 5 books and the numerous magazine and newspaper articles that he wrote.
5. Who Topped MLK in the 20th Century?
According to a Gallup Poll that was conducted in 1999, the only person that received more admiration than MLK for a job well done was Mother Teresa. When he was 35, King became the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which at the time made him the youngest person to ever receive it. So great was his influence, in fact, that King became one of the 10 martyrs of the world during the 20th century that are depicted in life-sized statues at London’s Westminster Abbey.
King donated all of the money from winning the Nobel Peace Prize, about $400k in today’s funds, to the Civil Rights movement.
6. He Got a “C” Grade In Public Speaking
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech might be one of the most memorable speeches of the last 100 years. He was often known and remembered as being a gifted public speaker, but what isn’t often known is that he got a C in public speaking during his first year while studying theology. No one knows why he was given this grade and eventually King became the student body president and the valedictorian of his class, so no harm, no foul.
7. He Convinced Uhura To Stay
Nichelle Nichols wanted to get out of Star Trek after the first season of the show. She didn’t have a very large role and wanted to pursue other things. MLK talked to her about staying with the show because she was a black woman who was seen as an equal on television during a time when they were all fighting for equality. She was seen as intelligent and an important member of the cast.
Just ask Whoopi Goldberg about how much this affected her life. She saw a woman on TV that looked like her and wasn’t a maid. It inspired her to get into the entertainment business and Goldberg loved Star Trek so much that when the next series came around in the late 80’s and early 90’s, she pushed to get a role on the show because she loved it so much. The second African American in space, Ronald McNair, is also on record saying that the character of Uhura inspired him as well.