MLK Day is a national holiday to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister and social activist during the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. He played a key role in the fight for equal rights for people of color in the United States. King is one of the most iconic activists of all time. Hopefully these eight things will inform you on the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
- King’s birth name is Michael, not Martin
While you’re still in shock let me explain. Michael King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. Due to his father traveling to Germany and being inspired by Martin Luther, a Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther he changed Michael’s name to Martin Luther.
- King entered college at the age of 15
King was extraordinarily smart and had a talent of writing. He skipped grades 9-12 and attended Morehouse College in 1944 and graduated with a degree in sociology.
- King was jailed 29 times
King was jailed many times for “civil disobedience”. As many people know, King was a non-violence activist and defying society and race laws was his way of standing up to racism. His reputation as a “troublemaker” followed him everywhere. He even got arrested for going 30-mph in a 25-mph zone.
- King escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death
On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, Stride Toward Freedom, in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. While he was bedridden for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.
- King’s I Have A Dream speech was not his first speech at the Lincoln Memorial
Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.
- King’s last speech foretold of his death
King had come to Memphis in April 1968 to support the strike of the city’s black garbage workers, and in a speech on the night before his assassination, he told an audience at Mason Temple Church: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
- King’s mother also died from a bullet
On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside 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 King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.
- King is the only American, other than George Washington, to have his birthday observed as a national holiday
In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor King. The holiday, first commemorated in 1986, is celebrated on the third Monday in January, close to the civil rights leader’s January 15 birthday.