Modified & Updated: 20 Jun 2022

Leading the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. became one of the most influential people in history. Through his lifetime of work, he opened the doors for progress against racial inequality in the US. Drawing inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and his Christian faith, King became one of the world’s greatest leaders. To this day, King’s words inspire change in those who want equal rights for all. Find out more about the man behind the words with these facts about Martin Luther King Jr. 

  1. On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was born.
  2. Martin Luther King Jr. got married to Coretta Scott King on June 18, 1953.
  3. Martin Luther King Jr. met his untimely death on April 4, 1968.
  4. He died at 39 years old from an assassination at Memphis, Tennessee. 
  5. In his lifetime, Martin Luther King Jr gave around 2,500 speeches that addressed inequality, racism, and segregation.
  1. Martin Luther King Jr. was known as the Baptist Minister.
  2. Naturally gifted, he skipped Grades 9 through 12 and enrolled in college by 1944.
  3. Even though he came from a family of Baptist ministers, Martin Luther King Jr. first did not have any plans in following their family’s vocation.
  4. Starting the mid-1950s until in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had a major role in many Civil Rights movements.
  5. The theologian Benjamin Mays convinced Dr. Martin Luther  King Jr to become a minister.
  6. Martin Luther King Jr became an ordained minister on February 25, 1948, at 39 years old.
  7. After completing his college degree, Martin Luther King Jr got his Ph.D. at  Boston University in 1955.
  8. Martin Luther King Jr. met his wife, Coretta, while pursuing his doctorate at Boston University.
  9. They decided to get married after dating for a short period.
  10. “I Have A Dream” was a famous speech of Martin Luther King Jr.
  1. His birth name was actually Michael but his father changed his name to Martin Luther King Jr. when he was only 5 years old.
  2. Martin Luther King Jr. was 35 years old when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, making him the youngest Laureate at the time. 
  3. When he was only 15, Martin Luther King Jr. was already attending college classes. 
  4. Despite his brilliant mind, public speaking was a struggle for Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. Martin Luther King Jr. was said to have been sent to jail for around 29 times because of civil disobedience and one for a driving violation.
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Martin Luther King Jr was the child of a schoolteacher and a pastor.

In his childhood, Martin Luther King Jr grew up in a Sweet Auburn neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia. His father worked as a Baptist pastor in their community, while his mother was a former teacher. Upon being inspired by the work of Protestant reformer Martin Luther, his father had their names changed from Michael to Martin. 

You can describe Martin Luther King Jr. as a gifted student.

Aside from the fact that he skipped Grades 9 to 12, he entered college at the tender age of 15. Enrolling at Morehouse College in 1944, Luther King Jr finished college at the alma mater of his dad and his maternal grandfather. Right after that, he studied at Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary for a divinity degree.

Afterward, he attended Boston University in 1995 to earn his graduate and Ph.D. degrees, writing his dissertation on humanity and God. This is definitely one of those astonishing facts about Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr gave a speech during the March on Washington.

In August 1963, a massive march protest called the March on Washington took place at Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Fighting for equality in freedom and jobs, the march aimed to draw emphasis to the continuing inequalities and challenges that the black community faces. At this march, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic speech, I Have A Dream. As one of his most cited works, the speech called for equal economic and civil rights in the US.

Even before his iconic speech at Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr also delivered other great speeches.

Around 6 years prior to his most known speech, Martin Luther King Jr also contributed to the as a civil rights leader in the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. On May 17th, 1957, he delivered a speech at the Great Emancipator Shadow about giving “them” the ballot. Upon delivering it, the talk gave him a seat at the civil rights leadership forefront while drawing in strong reviews. 

Martin Luther King Jr faced an assassination attempt before his death.

One of the least known facts about Martin Luther King Jr. is that he faced an assassination attempt decades before his demise. On September 20th, 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. held a book signing at Blumstein’s department store fir his book, Stride Toward Freedom.

During the event, Izola Ware Curry approached him and asked if he was King. Upon answering that he was, Curry plunged a letter opener right through his chest while saying that she looked for him for almost 5 years. Because of this, King spent many weeks in the hospital to recover from the incident.

Source: Unsplash

Despite the killing attempt, Martin Luther King Jr did not condemn his attacker.  

After having the letter opener plunged directly to his chest, the blade’s tip rested alongside the area of his aorta. As a result, respondents had to administer a delicate procedure, which almost claimed the life of the human rights leader. According to his surgeons and doctors, just a sneeze could have killed him.

Thankfully, he was able to survive the ordeal and lived another 10 years before facing another assassination that eventually caused his death. For the failed attempt, King did not press charges, affirming his nonviolent principles. 

Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech foreshadowed his death.

In April 1968, King went to Memphis to support black sanitation workers on strike. He gave a speech in that event at the Mason Temple Church, the night before he got assassinated. According to him, he didn’t aim to live a long life anymore, since he has already seen the ‘Promised Land.’

He also added he might not get there together with all the people in the event but they will get there one day. Through the speech, he also pointed out that he was already happy and he was ready to see the glory of the Lord.

A sniper's bullet struck Martin Luther King Jr's neck, which caused his death.

The assassination took place at 6:05 pm on his second-floor balcony at the Lorraine Motel, a day after his speech on Memphis. As he was standing on the balcony, when a bullet from a sniper struck his neck. King was immediately sent to the hospital, only to be pronounced dead after an hour. Eventually, James Earl Ray got arrested for the assassination. A convicted felon and an American fugitive, King unfortunately made it to his long list of victims. 

Martin Luther King Jr's family does not believe that Ray did it alone.

James Earl Ray pled guilty to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, but he eventually recanted his statements. In 1997, Ray met with King’s son, Dexter. According to King’s family, they believed that Ray did not do the deed independently, instead having a bigger organization behind him. They speculated that the mafia, federal, local, and state government agencies were also the head of the assassination.

In 1999, King’s widow, Coretta agreed with the theory in a civil trial, claiming that the assassination was all a conspiracy, with Ray as a scapegoat. However, a 2000 investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice did not reveal any evidence or proof of these theories.

6 years after Martin Luther King Jr's death, his mother was also slain.

At 69 years old, Alberta Williams King died from an assassination. On June 30th, 1974, King suffered the same fate as her son during a Sunday service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. As she was playing the organ, someone seated at the front pew rose from his seat, drew out his pistols, and started firing. It was later found out that the shooter was Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. The shooter claimed that he had a divine instruction to specifically kill King’s father, but since his mother was closer, he shot her instead. Aside from killing Alberta King, the shooting incident also caused the death of a church deacon. Because of this, Chenault Jr. got a death row sentence. Since King’s family was against capital punishment, his sentence was changed to a lifetime of imprisonment. Definitely one of the sadder facts about Martin Luther King Jr.death, mannequin

Source: Unsplash

Martin Luther King Jr's Day is a National Holiday in America.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to honor King through a federal holiday. Since then, the annual commemoration has been set to third Monday of January, close to King’s birthday on January 15th. 

Historians say that Martin Luther King Jr was a force to be reckoned with.

Although King first struggled with public speaking early in life, he did not allow that to prevent him from doing what he was born to do. Aside from being a minister, he was also a social activist that played a key role in many civil rights movements. He sought equality among the black community and all those suffering from injustice through peaceful protests.

Through his work, he provided the driving force for the legislation to push the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Because of this, Martin Luther King got the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. Even years after his death, his work continues to inspire the human rights movement. That’s definitely one of the inspiring facts about Martin Luther King Jr.

Gandhi inspired Martin Luther King Jr.'s non-violence philosophy.

King was studying at the Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948 when Mohandas Gandhi got assassinated in India. Because of Gandhi’s death, he was able to attend a lecture from Howard University’s president about the life and the works of Gandhi.

From there, he became deeply influenced by Gandhi’s philosophies and teachings. This led him to believe in a peaceful solution for everything. 

Most of the parts in Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech "I Have A Dream" was improvised.

Working on the draft for I Have A Dream, Clarence B. Jones claimed that most of the parts that were in the famous speech weren’t in the script. Instead, most of it was improvised by King when he was already up in the stadium, after Mahalia Jackson asked King to say something about dreams. 

Although Martin Luther King Jr did many great things, he was not a saint either.

There were numerous accusations of womanizing and extramarital affairs made against King. Instead of denying the claims, he admitted to a great weakness in that area. Also, an investigation in the 1980s revealed that most of the content in King’s Ph.D. dissertation was plagiarized. Well, it’s definitely one of those intriguing facts about Martin Luther King Jr.

man, woman, sweater
Source: Unsplash

Martin Luther King Jr. took part in a marching event known as “Bloody Sunday."

On March 7th, 1965, King served as part of the organizing committee for the march on Selma to Montgomery. A month before the event, a protester lost their life to an Alabama state trooper, which sparked the call for justice through the march. Unfortunately, the march got intercepted by police officers and state troopers, with the participants brutally beaten, hence the name “Bloody Sunday.” 

Before Martin Luther King Jr's death, he campaigned to end poverty.

One of the least Martin Luther King Jr. facts is that he was not only a civil rights activist, but he also advocated for ending poverty. Before he got assassinated, he focused on campaigns that aimed to stop the Vietnam War and stop the never-ending cycle of poverty. Since his shift of focus from civil rights to these new campaigns, many of his friends and liberal allies felt lost on what he was fighting for.

Martin Luther King Jr. received many accolades after his death.

After King’s death, he was awarded the 1977 Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the 2004 Congressional Gold Medal. Aside from this, the Lorraine Motel became one of the sites of the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s also noteworthy that when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared in 1986 as a federal holiday, not all states followed. It was only in the year 2000 when all 50 states in the US were able to officially celebrate the federal holiday under King’s name.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Star Trek Fan.

Just like a normal person, King was also a fan of many things, including Star Trek. In his life, King was an avid fan of  Lt. Nyota Uhura, otherwise known as Nichelle Nichols in real life. Aside from Gandhi, King claimed that Nichols’ character resonated with his leadership philosophies. In facts, some rumors even suggest that King convinced Nichols to stay with the show rather than joining Broadway for an offer.

spaceship, star trek
Source: Pixabay

He was not a singer but Martin Luther King Jr. won a Grammy Award.

One thing you should know is that King liked music. His favorite song was Take My hand, Precious Lord. However, he did not win the Grammy because he was a secret singer. The best part of it all, he did not only get nominated once – but thrice! Instead, he won the Best Spoken Word Recording for his speech in 1971 entitled, Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam

The FBI was convincing Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself.

Contrary to popular belief, the local police were not the most powerful opponent of King. Instead, this title may be rightfully given to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Led by Edgar J. Hoover, the FBI was on a pervasive mission to threaten King. Hoover even showed his distaste for the civil rights leader’s actions by sending out letters to his subordinates. There have even been claims of the FBI sending King letters to blackmail him with his extramarital affairs. 

Most of Martin Luther King Jr.'s arrests were on bogus charges.

One of the most interesting facts about Martin Luther King Jr. here is that he had been sent to jail many times. Known for organizing protests against racist policies in the South, he was always a hot target for the local police. You’d be surprised to know that he was arrested over 30 times, under bogus charges.

Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to commit suicide when he was 12.

Despite the success and fame of a person, you never really know the full story of their childhood. In 1941, King lost his grandmother to a heart attack. When his grandmother passed away, King was out with friends watching a parade that he was not allowed to go to. Upon finding his grandmother’s corpse when he got home, he jumped from the window of their 2-story house.

There was another casualty when Martin Luther King Jr. got assassinated.

A hotel worker also died the same day that King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. Lorraine Bailey, the motel owner’s wife, died of a heart attack. When she saw that King got shot, she was not able to bear the scene and had a heart attack.

Her death was one of the major reasons why there was difficulty in calling for an ambulance, as Bailey was the hotel’s switchboard operator. When someone called an ambulance using the motel room’s phone, no one was on the switchboard to route that call. This is one of those facts about Martin Luther King Jr. that will make us realize how precious life is.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a heavy smoker.

While it’s hard to imagine a minister smoking, King did smoke regularly. In fact, on the day of his assassination, he was out on his motel’s balcony enjoying a smoke. He had a habit of hiding it from the public eye as there was a stigma during that time for public figures who smoked. One other reason is that he did not want other kids to follow what he was doing. In an attempt to hide his smoking habits, a minister removed the cigarette packet from his pockets after he got shot.

Source: Pixabay

The autopsy of Martin Luther King Jr's showed the heart of a 60-year old.

According to the doctor who did the autopsy of King’s body, stress took a toll on the minister’s health. Even though he was only 39 years old at the time of his death, he had a heart like that of a 60-year old. All the stress, late nights, and worrying eventually made a huge impact on how his body was performing.

Martin Luther King Jr. took his wife to a funeral parlor for their honeymoon.

King married Coretta Scott on June 18th, 1953 at Scott’s backyard, with Rev Martin Luther King Sr. as the officiating minister. You might imagine fancy hotel rooms or getaways for a honeymoon but the King’s spent theirs differently. During that time, local hotels near Marion did not offer room rentals for black people.

Because of this, they spent their first night as a married couple at the back of a funeral parlor. Thankfully, they were able to do a second honeymoon 5 years after their marriage in Mexico.

There are over 700 streets across the US that are named after Martin Luther King Jr.

Apart from having a national holiday in honor of King’s life, around 700 streets in the world are also named after him. This does not include yet the schools, buildings, and projects named after him. For many, his life was a symbol of selflessness, kindness, and advocacy. There is no doubt that his life is still honored even over 50 years since his death.

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial features a granite statue in his likeness.

Found in West Potomac Park. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial features a granite statue of King also known as the Stone of Hope.  Lei Yixin, the statue’s sculpture, took inspiration for the design of his famous speech, “I Have A Dream.” After two years of fund-raising, construction, and planning, the memorial became open for the public to visit on August 22nd, 2011.

martin luther king jr., statue, monuement
Source: Unsplash

Martin Luther King Jr.'s methods of advocating for freedom made him stand out among the rest.

While most of the activists and leaders from before did all means necessary to advocate for freedom, King did otherwise. He did not promote violence, instead drawing his sword in the power of his words. His organized resistance events mainly involved peaceful protests, civil disobedience, and grassroots organizing.

All of these were seemingly-impossible goals but King still did it anyway. This is one of those facts about Martin Luther King Jr. that will make us realize that you can still be heard without resorting to violence.