10 Things You Didn’t Know About Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968)

Martin Luther King Day, a holiday first observed in 1986 to honor the man who promoted peaceful protest to secure civil rights in the late 1950s and early ’60’s, is right around the corner. And although King is one of U.S. history’s most widely chronicled individuals, there are aspects of his life that are less well-known.


1. His real name is Michael.

Born Michael Lewis King, King’s father, the Rev. M.L. King Sr., changed his own name to Martin Luther changing the oldest son’s name. Neither man spoke or wrote publicly about the change. The elder MLK insisted that his oldest son’s name was incorrectly recorded as Michael at birth, implying that the boy was named after reformer Martin Luther.

2. He wanted to marry a white cafeteria worker.

At Crozer Theological Seminary, in Chester, Pennsylvania during the late 1940s, King fell in love with a German cafeteria employee named Betty. Fellow seminarians, both white and black, talked him out of it, partially on the grounds that King’s father would frown upon the interracial romance of a son he was grooming for a successor role in the pulpit.

3. He attempted suicide as a young boy.

When King was 12, he attended a parade against his parents’ wishes. His maternal grandmother suffered a fatal heart attack that day. King blamed himself for her death, because his six-year old little brother A.D., whom he was supposed to be home watching, accidentally knocked their grandmother unconscious while sliding down a bannister. Young Martin did not know the unconsciousness was unrelated to the heart attack. Associating his absence with the tragic turn of events, Martin attempted suicide by jumping from a second-story window in his family home.

4. His Famous speech was written at the last minute.

4. His Famous speech was written at the last minute.

The speech King was supposed to deliver was called “Normalcy Never Again,” which didn’t mention dreams at all. MLK had talked about dreams before and had wanted to use some dream references from a speech he gave in Detroit, but his advisers told him not to. Then, during the speech itself, singer Mahalia Jackson shouted out for him to tell the audience “about the dream,” and he launched into an improvisation that resulted in the speech we know today.

5. He was a great student

5. He was a great student

He skipped two grades and left for college before formally graduating high school. Entering Moorehouse College at the age of 15, he was accepted as part of a early admittance program that was aimed to boost enrollment during the war.

6. Didn’t want to become a minister at first

Originally King had decided against entering the ministry and was considering becoming a doctor or a lawyer.

7. He got a C in public speaking.

Dr. King actually got a C in his first public speaking course. By the end of his studies, however, he had climbed to class valedictorian, student body president, and had worked up to straight A’s.

8. He won a Grammy.

Though Martin Luther King Jr. was an accomplished singer, performing with the Ebenezer Baptist choir at the “Gone with the Wind” premier in Atlanta, his Grammy was awarded posthumously for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam,” in the category of Best Spoken Word Album.

9. He was the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and was at the time the youngest person ever to receive that recognition. Since then, the prize has been awarded to Tawakkol Karman (age 32, in 2011), though Dr. King remains the youngest male recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated the $54,000 prize to the Civil Rights effort.

10. He was a huge Trekkie.

Tying his love for civil rights and Star Trek together, Dr. King convinced Nichelle Nichols (who played Uhura on the show) not to leave after the first season, as she had planned. Nichols later revealed that King had urged her to stay because her character broke the norm as an intelligent and equal member of the crew, a departure from the typical black persona on television at that time. Nichols’ presence on Star Trek is said to have inspired and empowered a young Whoopi Goldberg, as well as astronaut Ronald McNair.

Martin Luther King Jr. References

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Wikiquote

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Martin Luther King Jr. Playlist