We all know MLK’s famous “I have a Dream” speech, but there is a lot more to the civil rights leader than this one moment. Since Jan. 15 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we thought we’d give you eight facts you probably didn’t know about this amazing man.
- Born on Jan. 15, 1929, King’s birth name was actually Michael King Jr. His father, Michael King Sr., was a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. While on a trip to Germany, King Sr. became greatly inspired by the Protestant religious reformer, Martin Luther, and upon returning, he changed both his name and his then 5-year-old son’s. (Source)
- When King was twelve years old, his grandmother passed away due to a heart attack. He was so distraught from her passing that he attempted suicide by jumping out of a second-story window at his family home. He eventually came to terms with his grandmother’s death, and later said about it, “It was after this incident for the first time that I talked at any length on the doctrine of immortality. My parents attempted to explain it to me and I was assured that my grandmother still lived.” (Source)
- King was such a good student that he skipped both ninth and twelfth grade. He enrolled in his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College, in 1944 at the age of 15. (Source)
- Even though King was only 39 years old when he died, his autopsy showed that he had the heart of a 60-year-old. Doctors concluded that the stress and pressure King had faced over the course of his career had aged his heart tremendously. (Source)
- King married Coretta Scott in 1953. They spent the night of their wedding in a funeral parlor owned by a friend because honeymoon suites were not available for African Americans. (Source)
- King was jailed 29 times in his life. He was charged with many crimes, from speeding to acts of civil disobedience. (Source)
- King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, was also killed by a bullet. She was playing the organ during a Sunday service at Ebenezer Baptist Church when Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. shot her using two pistols. The gunman said he had received divine instructions to kill King Sr., but killed King’s mother because she was closer. She died on June 30, 1974— 6 years after King’s assassination.(Source)
- King’s speech “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” won him a posthumous Grammy. He was also awarded the Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. These are the highest awards for civilians in the United States. (Source)
Clearly, Martin Luther King did a lot of great things, some that we know about and some we don’t. It is clear, however, that he lived a remarkable life—one that changed the course of American culture and history. Remember to take some time this month to appreciate his non-violent protests and never-ending quest for equality.
Kelsie Donaldson is a junior studying professional writing with additional concentrations in advertising and psychology. She is a Netflix enthusiast, aspiring ukulele player and can’t decide if she’s a dog person or cat person. You can follow her on Instagram @kelsiedonaldson.