20 Interesting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Facts

martin-luther-king-jr-facts1) 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 his 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 he 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.  In Rev. Kyle’s own words,

I ran into the room and picked up the phone to call an operator or to call an ambulance. But, the operator had left the switchboard. There was nobody on the switchboard. I was saying, “Answer the phone, answer the phone, answer the phone.” And there was nobody on the switchboard. So the phone was not answered. (I learned later that the operator had gone out into the courtyard to watch Dr. King. When she saw what happened, she had a heart attack. She was the motel owner’s wife, and she died subsequently.) The police were coming with their guns drawn, and I hollered to the police, “Call an ambulance on your police radio. Dr. King has been shot.” They said, “Where did the shot come from?” … While waiting for the ambulance to come, I took a spread from one of the beds and covered him from his neck down. … I cannot tell you the feelings I had seeing my friend there on that balcony bleeding to death. Finally the ambulance came and took him away.

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.

It took three full hours to remove the blade.  The reason?  The sharp point end of the blade was pressing against his aorta and the doctors had to be extremely careful while removing it because of this.  The doctor, Dr. Maynard, told him after, “If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting, your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.”

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.

This seems to have had the intended effect.  Whoopi Goldberg once stated when she first saw the character of Uhura on TV, she said “Momma! There’s a black lady on TV, and she ain’t no maid!”  It was partially because of this that Goldberg became a huge Star Trek fan and later pushed so hard to get a character on Star Trek the Next Generation, despite the disbelief of the producers that she’d actually want to be on the show.

Astronaut Ronald McNair, the second black person in space (who also died in the Challenger explosion), was inspired to become an astronaut because of the character of Uhura.    McNair’s brother stated,

Now, Star Trek showed the future where there were black folk and white folk working together. I just looked at it as science fiction, ’cause that wasn’t going to happen, really.’ But Ronald saw it as science possibility. He came up during a time when there was Neil Armstrong and all of those guys; so how was a colored boy from South Carolina – wearing glasses, never flew a plane – how was he gonna become an astronaut? But Ron was one who didn’t accept societal norms as being his norm, you know? That was for other people. And he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise.”

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.  This was a memo circulated throughout the FBI offices after the speech:

In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.

The FBI later discovered King was supposedly having numerous affairs and sent him various anonymous letters stating such things as “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that” and threatening to blackmail him.  In another anonymous letter supposedly from the FBI, they stated,

The American public, the church organizations that have been helping—Protestants, Catholics and Jews will know you for what you are—an evil beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

Many of the FBI’s surveillance records, written and audio records, concerning King are currently held in the National Archives, but are sealed from public access until 2027.

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 Unites 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’ll end this post with the following quote from the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on non-violent resistance:

Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

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  • The guy was having a bunch of affairs? how sad, sort of makes him a bit of a hypocrite to his religious background and as a person if true.

    • Did you completely miss the word “supposedly” in that sentence?

      • This article uses the word ‘supposedly’, but it is a well-known fact to everyone else.

        • Daven Hiskey

          @janga: A lot of well-known “facts” aren’t though. 🙂

        • I do respect MLK Jr. for standing up and fighting for equality.. for the same rights white people has.. We are all God’s Children. But yet he was a hypocrite.. Even though He was a pastor.. A messenger of God.. He did have numerous affairs.. He was even blackmailed a few times because of his illicit affairs.. He did beat on his wife.. and was a paranoid schizophrenic.. I know nobody’s perfect.. As the saying goes.. “Practice what you preach.”

    • Either way, that doesn’t change what he’s done for this country. I think we missed the point! How about the fact that the FBI was trying to set him up because of his influence? Let’s not focus solely on the negative.

    • Well that would make you a bigot as well because you focus on the negative rather than the positive things that he did for his country.

    • this guy was also dumb

  • i thoroughly enjoyed this list!! found out a lot about a man I’ve always respected and now iI know more

  • What a swell guy

  • this is a verrrrrrrrryyyyy good fact webiste… and i love these comentes

  • These are verry good facts but doesnt tell any thing about what he did during his life. It just went from birth to death.

  • He was a great man, his reputation shouldn’t be tarnished by pity lies

  • Dr.King showed the world that love conquers all. Anyone pointing fingers at his imperfections I considered to be a hypocrite because no man is perfect… this is a biblical fact.

  • For those who has a problem with Martin Luther King, ash yourself one question, ” What have I done to help the world and made a differences?”. We all have and will make mistakes. people is glasses houses should not throw stones!!!

  • Im interested In those sealed FBI files not available to the public until 2027. Im wondering what they are hiding?

  • MLK was a card carrying communist and everybody loved him. He was indeed a 1st class FRAUD just like BHO!

  • Guys, I don’t mind recycled posts or podcasts, but you still need to double check those facts. Malala Yousafzai is currently the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to her just last year.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @tryllyam: We originally published this in 2013 on this site. 🙂 Fixing it now. Thanks for the update.

      • What my daughter just wrote a report on this and looked at some of the facts and its from 2013 now I have to tell her to restart a new report

        -Kyleigh Smith

  • This is not true: “The youngest ever to win the Peace prize today is Tawakkol Karman of Yemen who was just 32 when she won the prize in 2011.” The youngest person is Malala Yousafzai who won the prize in 2014 at the age of 17!!

  • Number 11 presents false information, “The youngest ever to win the Peace prize today is Tawakkol Karman of Yemen who was just 32 when she won the prize in 2011.” This is incorrect. The youngest ever to win the Peace Prize is Malala Yousafzai in 2014 at age 17.

  • Martin LKing was a great man&will remain so for all of history, never mind his private life!

  • i did not know he had a difrent name

  • My teacher said that her cousin was supposed to kill him

  • he did not have any affairs people just say that to discourage his followers

  • I’m embarrassed to correct the article. AZ does NOT recognize MLK Day. AZ has a “Civil Rights” Day on the day the rest of the country has a MLK Day. You will not find it listed as MLK day on any government document or website.
    Just another reason for the rest of the country to hate us. Sorry guys. Not my policy, so don’t attack me. It’s the government. And all government is over-reaching.

  • Even though some people think he’s a bad influence for smoking and having many affairs it shows that he’s human. We all make mistakes. He’s done more for our country that most of us could ever do in our lifetime. He is a hero that i will always look up to.

  • Clifton Palmer McLendon

    Martin Luther King was nothing but a troublemaker, and the entire so-called “civil rights movement” a collection of tantrum-throwers.

    There is a proper way in these United States to get unpopular laws changed — and it does not involve throwing tantrums.

    The proper way to get laws changed is to notify your legislators. Tell them what you don’t like about the law, what you want changed, and that they can either change it to suit you or get fired at the next election. Keep firing legislators until you elect one that will do as he is told.

    • @ Mr McLendon, Do you truly believe that he did not try numerous times to meet with and persuade lawmakers? Perhaps you should consider studying more closely the civil rights movement and the dreadful circumstances that led to it. I am no history expert but we cannot deny that the situation was desperate and called for drastic measures. Tantrum throwers? seriously?

      • Don’t worry, he’s just a troll, I highly doubt he’s actually serious, but on the off chance that he is serious he’s a racist bastard that can’t be changed through comments. Those bigots usually won’t look into something unless they are curious and if he was curious he would know that he’s completely wrong

    • Chicken Sandwich 101

      Wow, racist much?

  • MLK Sr was a registered Republican and he and MLK Jr fought side by side with the Republicans to end discrimination… Democrats voted against integration and even created the KKK to scare and use terroristic tactics against Blacks to try to force them to accept segregation forever! Finally recognizing they had no choice because of the political pressure and massive marches across America, the Democrats knew they had lost their battle to keep Blacks segregated! Promising MLK Sr and Jr. that they would give Blacks public housing and assistance and sign the CRA if they would get Blacks to support the Democrats, MLK Sr switched to the Democrat party and LBJ signed the CRA..and of course Blacks would support any party that MLK Jr told them to support! Even after that party raped, lynched, murdered, bombed Black churches killing innocent little Black girls, burned crosses in Black families yards, and terrorized Blacks, MLK Jr gave Blacks over to them…What a backstabber he was. Blacks are still paying for it now 50 years later! Democrats have stifled their advancement in society with poor educational opportunities and plantation style control in every facet of their lives! As long as Blacks support the Democrat party, they will be forever stifled… So sad!!

    • Back then that was how it was. From the time of Abe to the early 70’s, the Republican party was considered ‘Liberal’ and the Democratic party was ‘Conservative’. Many old people today still are registered ‘Republican’ or ‘Southern Democrat’ and did not change when everyone else did. Hope this helps you understand better!

    • Bill has revealed facts which I have known about or suspected were true since 1979 when, at age 28, I became a Christian and a conservative Republican — never to vote for a Democrat again. Now that I am older and wiser I am a Conservative and support Tea Party candidates. Movement toward the right is always growth and edification.

    • back then the democrats were like modern republicans and the republicans were like modern day democrats

  • In as much as time changes, this wise man will forever be admired by those of similar traits and all others with the voice of reason…from the above facts, it is not what we choose to do at that time but what will follow from that moment of time…thanks to i have a dream…it is a slogan that moves mountains and cultivates hope in the universe

  • What is the author’s or authors’ name(s)

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Jahn: This one had multiple authors. Some of them are from me (Daven Hiskey) and others are from List25’s team of writers.

  • Great blog post Daven Hiskey… Great information I didn’t know. Also, Bill’s comment on May 15th about the Republican Party and it’s original history and the Democrats. I guess I don’t read enough. But great information and thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • Martin….. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING IN FACT NUMBER 2?!???!?!?!?!? ARE YOU INSANE!??!?!?!?@?#!?@?

    • Well, I know it was wrong for him to try to commit suicide but his grandmother passed because of a heart attack. When someone died that you loved haven’t you ever felt like you didn’t need to be alive either cause your loved one has passed and you loved them unconditionally. But that was really wrong of him to try to do that. Thank god he didn’t because he has changed peoples lives and without him I don’t know where we would be right now.

  • I like how people didnt bother checking the ” 2013 ” which he was youngest to write one BEFORE malala won. xD

  • wow, never knew fact number 2, amazing
    i wonder what would´ve happened if he actually succeeded, would the United States change the law eventually, or would that bad stuff still exist???

    and i really appreciate all these facts, including other facts from other cites

    thanks a lot

  • Morehouse — not Moorehouse

  • “At the time of this event, King Jr. was off disobeying his parents by going to watch a parade when they told him not too.”

    “too” should be “to”

  • The people that focus on the negativity of Martin Luther King Jr. are not okay in there heads. They don’t care who they’re hurting, they only care about themselves honestly. They don’t know who this man really is. To be honest I don’t think he had affairs because his wife would’ve divorced him. So think of what you say before you say it. And get some respect for yourself and try to actually use it. I thank him everyday for fighting and not giving up for black people. Everyone deserves a chance and I think every black person that was fighting for what they believe in needed a chance. Everything I hear about Martin Luther King Jr. is focused on negative things like oh he was ungrateful to his wife or he was a true leader. Like no you can’t say those kind of things because even if he did cause i’m not saying i’m right and all but it’s not like anyone is better and if there are haters out there trying to hate, good luck cause no one is going to support you. Everyone knows Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader, what am I saying he was an amazing leader. And for anyone that hates him, good for you no one is telling you to like him. For whatever reason you don’t like him it’s not the truth and you know it. So don’t be hating, and if you are hating i’ll be praying for you. He led himself to great achievements and his little brother wanted to follow in his footsteps because he was such a good role model to his little brother. His brother was risking his own life just to find out who killed his big brother, his role model. And everyone says that he wasn’t a very good person. Everyone has flaws and imperfections. Ask yourself “Am I a person that believes or am I a hater”?

  • MLK jr was really a great leader who had try to brought light when everything was dark . Please if you have bad feelings for him please keep it within yourself because good people don’t always reveal the evil deeds of others they don’t create lies . good people always try to show the good deeds of others so that the younger generation can learn from it , they always tell the truth.
    Do you listen to his speeches very well ? If you do you will know which kind of person he was. Martin luther king junior love all his enemies including you, and if he was still alive and happen to read your evil comments he will jus chuckle and say u are ignorant that’s why you talk like this.

  • hi

  • any one on

  • hi this helps a lot i like this app thanks may you very much i appreciate the app because my teacher told me to do a essay on martin luther king j.r and it has to be in facts so i really really thank and if you want ti know my age just guest

  • Martin Luther King Jr should not deserve disrespect because he tried to fight for the blacks be cause they did not want whites and black go to the same schools also the same restroom so they had to be separated and they had to walk in the civil rights movement one day Martin Luther got shot and they did not know who did it so after that he saw Rosa parks go to jail because she did not move back in the back seat which they told her so the driver called the police and then they handcuffed her and took to jail she stayed in there for like probably a year or a month so now they came up with everybody go to the same place so now everything is normal and if this is negativity please do not do it because this is not nice and you would not like it so treat other how you want to be treated because if you be mean then you want them to be mean to you bye MLk

  • Thank you for the interesting facts im in 8th and I’m writing a paragraph about mlk

  • this is a black king of the world

  • I don’t see any footnotes for references. Where is the proof that some of these claims are true? Some of these claims (and subsequent comments) are nothing more than slander against Dr. King without legitimate references proving they are facts.

  • Martin Luther King was a great person so I don’t want to listen to any insults. He is the reason you see black people walking on the roads of Mississipi with their heads help high. He is the reason Barack Obama became president. He is the reason black people flourish in America.

  • Wow, he tried to commit suicide?
    Is this for kids?