1. Martin Luther King’s Birth Name was Michael
Michael King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. In 1934, his father, the pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. Soon after, Michael King Sr. changed his name and his 5-year-old son’s to Martin Luther. MLK was known as Little Mike and his father as Big Mike.
2. MLK Tried to Commit Suicide
When King was 12, he attended a parade against his parents’ wishes. That same day, his maternal grandmother suffered a fatal heart attack. King blamed himself, because he was supposed to be home watching his six-year old brother A.D. A.D. accidentally knocked their grandmother unconscious while sliding down a bannister. Associating his own absence with the tragic turn of events, Martin attempted suicide by jumping from a second-story window.
3. MLK Skipped Most of High School
As a child King attended Atlanta Public Schools – David T. Howard Elementary and Booker T. Washington High School. He was a gifted student and thanks to a wartime program intended to boost enrollment, he entered college at 15. He was admitted to Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather in 1944. Although his father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all Baptist ministers, King had no plans to follow in their footsteps. He considered medicine and law, but changed his mind and was ordained before graduating with a degree in sociology.
4. MLK was in Jail 29 Times
According to the King Center, MLK went to jail nearly 30 times. He was arrested for widespread acts of civil disobedience. In 1956, he also went to jail for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone in Montgomery, Alabama.
5. MLK Escaped an Earlier Assassination Attempt
On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, Stride Toward Freedom, in Blumstein’s Department Store. He was approached by Izola Ware Curry, who said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she then plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta. King underwent hours of emergency surgery to remove it. Surgeons later told King just one sneeze could have punctured his aorta and drowned him in his own blood.
6. MLK Spent His Honeymoon in a Funeral Home Upon marrying his wife, Coretta, in 1953, King realized no honeymoon suites were available for African-Americans. They ended up spending the honeymoon at a friend’s funeral parlor.
7. MLK Applied for a Gun Permit to Protect His Family
In the mid-1950s, King applied for a firearms permit during a period when his home and several Montgomery churches were bombed. One civil rights colleague, Glenn Smiley, described King’s home as “an arsenal”. However, the weapons were not King’s, as Alabama refused his application for a permit. They belonged to aides.
8. MLK’s Family Believed James Earl Ray Did Not Act Alone
Ray, a career criminal, pled guilty to King’s assassination but later recanted. King’s son Dexter met publicly with Ray in 1997 and argued for the case to be reopened. King’s widow, Coretta, believed the Mafia and local, state, and federal government agencies were involved in King’s murder. Lloyd Jowers was the owner of Jim’s Grill, a restaurant near the Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assassinated on April 4, 1968. In 1993, Jowers appeared on ABC’s Prime Time Live and gave details of the alleged conspiracy involving the Mafia and the U.S. government to murder King. Jowers stated James Earl Ray was only a scapegoat as Jowers himself had hired Memphis police Lieutenant Earl Clark to fire the fatal shot. In 1998, the King family brought a case against Jowers. The jury deemed the assassination the result of a conspiracy and determined Ray was set up to take the blame. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation released in 2000 reported no evidence of conspiracy and rejected the jury’s ruling.
9. MLK’s Mother was also Slain by a Bullet.
On June 30, 1974, 69-year-old Alberta Williams King was playing the organ at the Sunday service at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols, and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed Mrs. King. The gunman said Christians were his enemy and he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was also in the congregation. He said he shot King’s mother instead because she was closer. One of the bullets also killed a church deacon. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later commuted to life imprisonment.
10. MLK was a Smoker
While few photos of MLK smoking remain, he smoked regularly, although he hid this due to the stigma within the church and because he didn’t want his kids to smoke. King was assassinated while smoking on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. But before he was taken away by ambulance, Reverend Kyles says he removed the package of cigarettes from King’s pocket and got rid of the cigarette butt.
11. MLK was a Trekkie
MLK was so into Star Trek he convinced Nichelle Nichols, an African-American actress who played Uhura, to stay on the show after the first season.
12. MLK Died Intestate.
Although his wife Coretta had asked him for years to set aside funds for educating their four children, King had not. He left no will and no assets from his books, speaking engagements, ministry, and of most concern to his wife, the $54,600 he earned as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The singer, Harry Belafonte, raised money to ensure the King children were supported and educated. The absence of a will led to many court battles over the use and intellectual property of MLK’s speeches, image, recordings, and literary works. Some related disputes created rifts among King’s four surviving children and other close relatives.
13. MLK’s Heart was 20 Years Older
At an autopsy following his assassination, it was found that although MLK was only 39, he had the heart of a 60- year- old. Doctors concluded this was probably due to stress. Or smoking?
14. MLK Day is Celebrated in Two Other Places
Toronto, Canada and Hiroshima, Japan also observe Martin Luther King Day.
15. Picking Tobacco Revealed an Unprejudiced North to MLK
When MLK was 15, and again when he was 18, he worked summers harvesting tobacco in Simsbury, Connecticut, not far from Hartford. He wrote, “After we passed Washington there was no discrimination at all. The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit anywhere we want to.” In a correspondence to his mother, he continued, “I never thought that a person of my race could eat anywhere but we ate in one of the finest restaurants in Hartford. And we went to the largest shows there.”
16. MLK’s Final Words
MLK’s final words were to his long-time friend and musician Ben Branch, “Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” Moments later he was assassinated.