Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prolific activist and civil rights icon – one that we have been celebrating annually since 1983, when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a federal holiday. As a result, you may think you know just about everything there is to know about the civil rights leader. Yet, you might be surprised to learn these lesser-known facts about the man’s life and legacy! Check them out below.
His birth name was Michael, not Martin.
The civil rights leader we all know today was actually born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. However, upon returning from a trip to Germany, Michael’s father, a pastor, was so inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther that he changed his and his son’s name.
King entered college at the age of 15.
As a boy, Dr. King was a gifted student – so gifted, in fact, that he was able to skip grades 9 and 12 before enrolling at Morehouse College in 1944 at the tender age of 15. It was there he followed his family’s vocation and was ordained before graduating college with a sociology degree.
King was imprisoned almost 30 times.
Today, Dr. King is regarded as a civil rights hero. But, back in the day, King was largely viewed as a threat to society. The civil rights leader went to jail 29 times for acts of civil disobedience and mild offenses. For example, one time, he was jailed for driving 5 miles over a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit.
The activist narrowly avoided a first assassination attempt 10 years before his death.
A decade before his assassination by James Earl Ray, Dr. King was the victim of another assassination attempt. At a Harlem bookstore in 1958, King was approached by Izola Ware Curry, a mentally ill woman who plunged a letter opener into his chest. King received emergency surgery and barely survived.
King’s family members do not believe James Earl Ray acted alone.
James Earl Ray pled guilty to King’s 1968 assassination. However, King’s family members do not believe that the career criminal acted alone. Though largely still speculation, some of King’s family members believe that the assassination was coordinated by organized crime groups and/or government agencies.
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