We all know why we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.
Did you know that we don’t even celebrate Dr. King’s holiday on his actual birthday every year? The holiday we have is always held on the third Monday in January. Enabling people to have a day off every year for it (if their company allows it.)
We even have two separate days every year to honor Dr. King. The first is his birthday holiday. The second is slightly lesser known. We have The National Martin Luther King Day of Service. It was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wafford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of King. The federal legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 23, 1994.
Here are some other great facts you may not have known about Dr.King:
1) His name was originally Michael, not Martin.
His father was also Michael King, hence why Martin Luther King Jr. was originally named Michael King Jr. However, after a trip to Germany in 1931, Michael King Sr. changed his own name in homage to historic German theologian Martin Luther. Michael King Jr. was two years old at the time and King Sr. made the decision to change his son’s name to Martin Luther as well.
2) At the age of 12, he seems to have tried to commit suicide.
It was May of 1941 when Dr. King’s grandmother passed away after a heart attack. At the time of this event, King Jr. was off disobeying his parents by going to watch a parade when they told him not to. When he came home and learned his grandmother had died, he went upstairs and jumped from the second story window of his house.
3) King wasn’t the only one to die at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
After Dr. King was killed, one of the hotel workers, Lorraine Bailey (who was also the wife of the motel owner and who it was named after), upon seeing King get shot, had a heart attack and later died from this. This was partially why there was such a delay in getting an ambulance as Lorraine was also the switchboard operator and so when Reverend Samuel Kyles attempted to call an ambulance using the phone in the motel room, nobody was at the switchboard to make that happen.
4) Also on the day King was killed, he was out on the balcony for a smoke.
While you’ll be hard pressed to find a picture of him smoking, he smoked regularly, though had a habit of hiding this partially due to the stigma, particularly within the church at the time, but also because he didn’t want his kids to take up smoking, and so didn’t like pictures of himself doing it, nor did he like to smoke when they were around. According to Rev. Kyles, after King was shot but before he was taken away by the ambulance, Kyles removed the package of cigarettes from King’s pocket and got rid of the cigarette butt, partially to attempt to hide the fact that King was smoking at the time he was shot.
5) Martin Luther King Jr. was nearly assassinated a decade earlier than his ultimate death.
While on a book tour, signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom, on September 20, 1958, King was approached by Izola Ware Curry who asked him if he was Martin Luther King Jr., which he of course replied affirmatively. When he said he was, she said “I’ve been looking for you for five years.” She then pulled out a letter opener and stabbed him in the chest.
6) King Jr. skipped two grades in high school
9th and 11th, and entered college (Moorehouse College) at the tender age of 15 in 1944. By 19, he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
7) He almost didn’t become a minister.
After graduating from college, he still had serious doubts about Christianity and the Bible and told his father (who was a Baptist minister, as his grandfather had also been) that he didn’t want to be a minister and instead was considering becoming a doctor or a lawyer. He later decided that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape” and chose to become a minister, entering seminary at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He graduated with his PhD at the age of 25.
8) Although King today is often remembered as being an amazing public speaker, he got a C in public speaking during his first year at seminary.
This likely isn’t because he was actually bad at public speaking at this point. His father noted that even before going to seminary King Jr. was one of the best public speakers he’d seen. Whatever caused his professor to give him a C, by his final year King had straight A’s, was the valedictorian of his class, and the student body president.
9) His honeymoon was spent at a funeral parlor.
Not because someone died, simply because a friend owned the parlor and offered to let him use it for his honeymoon.
10) King convinced “Uhura” on Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols (who incidentally later went on to work for NASA), to continue on with the role after the first season.
Nichols stated he told her not to leave the show because she was not only playing a black person as a main character on TV, but she was also playing a character that didn’t conform to the stereotypical black person of the day, usually portrayed. Rather, Uhura was portrayed as an intelligent member of the crew and an equal to those around her.
11) King is to date the youngest male to win a Nobel Peace Prize,
winning it in 1964 at the age of 35 (at the time he was the youngest overall for the Peace Prize). The youngest ever to win the Peace prize today is Malala Yousafzai who won it in 2014 at the age of 17.
12) King donated all of the $54,123 (about $400,000 today) he received for his Nobel Peace Prize to the Civil Rights movement.
During his acceptance speech, he stated “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
13) King won a Grammy and was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and a Medal of Freedom.
The Medal of Freedom and the Gold Medal make sense, but how on Earth did he win a Grammy, you say? He won it in 1971 for Best Spoken Word Album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam”.
14) His house was once bombed.
This was during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted a total of 385 days (more interesting facts on this boycott here)
15) His mother, Alberta Williams King, was also murdered.
She was killed while attending church in Atlanta in 1974 by a 23 year old man, Marcus Wayne Chenault, who believed “all Christians are my enemies”. He shot and killed her while she was playing organ at the church.
16) King Jr.’s autopsy revealed that stress had taken a major toll on his body.
Despite being just 39 at the time of his death, one of the doctors noted that he had “the heart of a 60 year old”.
17) It wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The last states to join up where Arizona in 1992, New Hampshire in 1999, and Utah in 2000. The holiday itself was originally signed into federal law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, with the first MLK holiday on January 20, 1986.
18) His “I Have a Dream” speech painted an even bigger target before on his back
Not just with certain people in the general public, but with the FBI. Memos about him circled their offices for quite a while.
19) There are only two other people in American history that have a national holiday in their honor.
George Washington and Christopher Columbus. As such, Martin Luther King Jr. is the only native born United States citizen to have a national holiday in his honor. (*note: While Washington was born in Virginia, obviously the United States did not yet exist. For reference, the first President to be born in the country of the United States was Martin Van Buren. He was also the first President not of Irish or British ancestry- his ancestors were Dutch.)
20) Today over 700 streets in the United States are named after Martin Luther King Jr.,
With one such street in almost every major city. This is not even counting the amazing number of buildings, schools, and the like named after him.
I urge all of you to take a note from Dr. King’s book, and do something today that services your community. Plant a tree, donate socks to a local shelter, read to the children’s ward at the hospital. Honor Dr. King in the best way we know how, with love.