10 Surprising Martin Luther King Jr. Facts

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the power of words and protests over violence and hate, and his leadership of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1950s changed American history. The non-violent leader was unfortunately assassinated on 4th April, 1968, yet his accomplishments will live on forever.

1. Real Name

Martin Luther King Jr and father

Martin Luther King Jr’s name was not originally Martin at all. It was Michael. His father was also called Michael King, and he was originally named Michael Luther King Jr. Michael King Sr. changed his name during a trip to Germany in 1931 in homage to Martin Luther, a historic German theologian.

As Martin Jr. was just two years old at the time, his father made the decision to change his son’s name, too,

2. Attempted Suicide

Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Jr attempted suicide when he was a mere 12 years old. He disobeyed his parents by going to watch a parade, and when he returned home he learnt his grandmother had passed away from a heart attack. Devastated, he went upstairs and jumped from the second story window of his house.

3. Smoking

Martin Luther King Jr I Have a Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a smoker, but hid this fact due to the stigma of smoking within the church. He also didn’t want children to take up smoking and was therefore very rarely seen with a cigarette.

On the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, he was out on the balcony smoking. After he was shot and taken away by an ambulance, Reverend Kyles removed the cigarette pack from his pocket and disposed of the cigarette butt, in an attempt to hide the fact he was smoking when he was shot.

4. Assassination Attempt

Martin Luther King Jr in hospital

On 20th September, 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was nearly assassinated – a decade earlier than his untimely death. He was on a book tour signing copies of Stride Toward Freedom when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. She asked if he was, in fact, Martin Luther King Jr, to which he replied yes. She responded, “I’ve been looking for you for five years” and then stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener.

5. Public Speaking

Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King Jr. is regarded as one of the greatest orators of all time. It is therefore surprising to learn that he received a C in public speaking during his first year at seminary; however, in his final year he received straight A’s from his professor.

6. Funeral Parlour

Martin Luther King Jr and wife

Some people head to a tropical destination or a romantic hotel break on their honeymoon. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, however, spent theirs in a funeral parlour. Not because someone had passed away, but because his friend owned one and allowed him to use it for his honeymoon. Strange but true!

7. Nobel Peace Prize

Martin Luther King Jr nobel peace prize

In 1964, at just 35 years old, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and became the youngest ever person to win the honour – and the title was not taken off him until 2011 when Tawakkol Karman of Yemen received the prize at just 32 years old. King donated all the Nobel Peace Prize money – $54,123 – to the Civil Rights movement.

8. Martin’s Mother

Dr. King At News Conference At Hospital

Alberta Williams King, Martin’s mother, was also murdered. 23-year-old Marcus Wayne Chenault coldly shot and killed Alberta when she was playing organ at her church in Atlanta, claiming “all Christians are my enemies”.

9. 700 Streets

Street signs mark the corner of Rosa Parks Blvd and Martin Luther King Jr Blvd in Detroit

There are over 700 streets in the United States named after Martin Luther King Jr. – meaning one street in every major city is named after the American pastor.

10. Jail Time

Martin Luther King Jr in jail

Like many ground-breaking activists, Martin Luther King Jr. experienced his fair share of jail time. He nearly went to jail 30 times for acts of civil disobedience or on trumped-up charges. For example, he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956 for driving just 30 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone.

Have you got any facts about the civil rights leader that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them – so drop us a comment below. For more interesting facts on other world leaders, read 10 Mind-Blowing Winston Churchill Facts.

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