Society - People
By: - at October 16, 2013

15 Little Known Facts about Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. helped African Americans gain social equality

Dr. Martin Luther King is a famed social activist, a key driver of the Civil Rights Movement, an icon of racial equality and a symbol of peace in the United States. He influenced the world through his model of social reform and his suggestions for creating racial equality are useful guides for various countries struggling with issues of inequality as well as racial prejudice. Known for his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, the man continues to shape ideas of equality for all people in the United States and internationally. He fought for the rights of the African American community and for equal rights regardless of race, emphasizing the value of a person's humanity rather than his or her skin color. His valiant efforts were a major success and milestone in the formation of civil rights in the United States.

Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and many others paved the way for racial equality in America. King is widely known as the figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement through various social protests, many speeches and other forms of activism both in public speeches as well as in written form. He is a famous figure in recent American history that is known worldwide but there are still some more obscure things about the man that are not so commonly known that illuminate his character as a valiant leader, a powerful social activist and a brilliant scholar.

15)  Like most people, Martin Luther King had a favorite meal.
People tend to forget about the humanity of major public figures, almost mythologizing them at times. Public figures have their individual personality traits that define them outside of their social appearances and in the case of Martin Luther King, one of those traits would be his favorite meal. Martin Luther King's favorite meal consisted of a combination plate of fried chicken, black eyed peas, collard greens and corn bread, a notable Southern style meal. Though eating does not connect to his social activities, it certainly does show his more personal side by shedding some light onto the man in his private family activities.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s favorite meal was fried chicken, black eyed peas, collard greens and corn bread

14)  Martin Luther King paid homage to Gandhi by visiting his place of birth.
Martin Luther King was inspired by Gandhi’s methods of activism and social reform, most notably in the aspect of pacifism. Using Gandhi's philosophy in line with his own, King developed an identity as a pacifist and emphasized nonviolent resistance as a means to achieving racial equality in the United States of America. As such, Martin Luther King felt the need to visit Gandhi’s birthplace as a form of homage to pay respect to the man. King decided to visit where the man lived to get a better understanding of his philosophy by traveling to India and walking in the footsteps of his predessor. Martin was moved to continue in his activism for civil rights, finding fresh inspiration in the life of Gandhi and the place from which his ideas originated.

Gandi was a famous civil rights activist and pacifist that moved MLK Jr.

Gandhi's birthplace
Martin Luther King Jr. visited the birthplace of Gandhi

13)  Martin Luther King was a pastor of a church.
Martin Luther King was not only an activist for civil rights but he was also the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church’s in 1954. LSU libraries document that he served this position and led the congregation from 1960 until 1968, the year in which he died. His father ran the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther king Jr. sang in the choir during his youth then grew up to carry on the family tradition of preaching. His family background is filled with this religious involvement and it certainly inspired much of his social movement along with his goal for peace as well as equality.

Martin Luther King Sr.
Martin Luther King Sr. was Martin Luther King Jr.'s dad

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Martin Luther King Jr. was the preacher at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954
By Chris Pruitt, via Wikimedia Commons

Ebenezer Baptist Church
Martin Luther King Jr's. father was the preacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church

12)  Martin Luther King was a fan of Star Trek. He is the reason Nichelle Nichols stayed on the show.
Martin Luther King enjoyed the science fiction television show Star Trek and he also saw the importance of the show for the Civil Rights Movement in its representation of race relations, specifically that there were African American characters in positions of leadership. Nichelle Nichols, known for her role as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, stated that Martin Luther King was the reason she stayed on the show when she was about to move in another direction. Nichols spoke with King about the idea of leaving the show and moving to Broadway; he suggested that she stay with the cast of Star Trek rather than pursue a Broadway career.

He expressed to the actress that her role on television was highly important to the perception of African Americans in society and she was a figure of authority that could be emulated in society. Her role stood as a symbol for the African American community because her position on board the USS Enterprise could potentially reflect the roles for African Americans as leaders in the United States. As a lieutenant on the show, she represented a strong character and role model for the Civil Rights Movement. King's words moved her to stay on with the show and she served as a role model for many viewers.

Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura
Nichelle Nichols was Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek

11)  Martin Luther King was not only present at the premiere festivities of the film Gone with the Wind; he performed with a choir to commemorate it.
Though Martin Luther King is most famous for his public speeches in his adult life, a young King was a performer. Martin Luther King did a vocal performance for the commemoration of the release of the famous film "Gone with the Wind". This performance was sung by a young boys' choir in Ebenezer Baptist church, which was his father's church. Martin and the boys choir sang in celebration of the film's release as part of a several day festival in honor of the film.

Unfortunately, this film and its celebrations were not free of the racial tensions of the time. That being the case, African Americans were not permitted to attend the actual screening of the film due to segregation. Prominent actresses as Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen were not even permitted into the film, despite their contributions to the film as major characters. Such being the case, Martin Luther King and the boys in the choir were not permitted in either.

Gone With the Wind pre-release poster
Martin Luther King sang at the release festival of Gone With the Wind

10)  Martin Luther King was under secret government surveillance.
The government most certainly knew of the movement that Martin Luther King was leading as an activist in a time of transition in the United States. His reputation was well known as he grew in prominence in the public field and with all eyes on him, it is no surprise that the government's ears would also turn towards him. The FBI had King's home telephone and the hotel rooms where he stayed bugged between the years of 1962 and 1968. They would monitor his calls and conversations, trying to find something that they could blackmail the man with in order to prevent him from bringing about his goal of social equality. These recordings included private conversations and a possible affair. The government efforts represent the trials and tribulations that he had to pass through because of the controversy of his movement in a culture that didn't acknowledge his ideas of equality for all races.

Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI during MLK Jr.'s surveillance
Edgar Hoover was director of the FBI during the surveillance of MLK Jr.

9)  Martin Luther King was a suicide survivor. Multiple times.
Martin Luther King was surrounded by stressful situations and his mental health suffered during his time in the public eye. Through the Civil Rights Movement, he maintained a very strong image as a firm speaker and impressive leader but in his past he struggled with the will to live. Martin Luther King's grandmother, Jennie, suffered a heart attack and passed away when King was only twelve years old. This unfortunate event left such an impression on King that he attempted to end his life at a very young age by jumping through a window on the second story of his family's home, which he survived. Unfortunately, this is not the only time Martin Luther King faced the issue of suicide in his lifetime.

Reportedly, Martin Luther King received a letter from the FBI with the intent of causing him to commit suicide. The letter accused King of misrepresenting African Americans in his social endeavors, leading a fraudulent movement that would ultimately amount to nothing and being an evil detriment in general. The letter closed with a not so subtle suggestion that there is only one way out for the man and that he must take it to right the wrongs that he allegedly committed. Fortunately, King realized the very suspicious nature of this letter and saw through it.

The package that this letter came in also contained audio recordings of Martin Luther King's possible affair and other unsavory instances of private conversation that would ultimately serve as blackmail. If the package contents were released to the public then his reputation as a notable public figure would be tainted, jeopardizing the Civil Rights Movement. King realized the FBI had bugged the room and kept him under surveillance where ever he went, they were spying on him illegally. With such a strong reputation in the controversial movement, it is no surprise that the FBI kept tabs on him. Those who were against the movement wanted him to fail, even if that meant manipulative illegal tactics. Nevertheless, King caught them in their own shameful game and avoided a possible suicide again.

Picture of MLK Jr. on the bottom right and Jennie behind him
Martin Luther King Jr. was very close to his Grandmother, Jennie

Letter from FBI to MLK Jr.
The FBI wrote a letter to MLK Jr. encouraging him to commit suicide

8)  Martin Luther King was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1964.
Time magazine in 1964 named Martin Luther King as Man of the Year, putting his portrait on the cover in honor of the movement he was leading and there was much significance in this action on the part of the publication. It commemorated the Civil Rights Movement in mass media and showed how prominent it had become in the eye of the American public. The magazine cover was present on the news, in the newsstands and many other media. The movement continued to gain recognition because of the magazines move and this was a major step for King. This recognition made King the first African American to hold the title of Man of the Year, making the African American community receive even more publicity in social activism and furthered the progress of the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. was the first African American to appear on Time Magazine

7)  Martin Luther King's activism extended beyond the Civil Rights Movement to other forms of protest.
Though Martin Luther King is best known for his role in the Civil Rights Movement, he also spoke out against the Vietnam War. King was antiwar, very much inspired by Gandhi. As a pacifist, King believed these actions of US involvement in Asia were misdirected and potentially harmful. One of his main problems with the war, aside from the general violence, was the funding. He was concerned that the Vietnam War was causing the United States to divert funds from social institutions that were designed to help the poor, especially within the African American community.

King speaking to an anti-Vietnam war rally at the University of Minnesota
MLK Jr. was against the Vietnam War
By Minnesota Historical Society, via Wikimedia Commons

6)  Parts of the famous "I Have a Dream" speech are believed to have been improvised when Martin Luther King presented it.
The "I Have a Dream" speech is one of the most iconic, most famous and most important speeches delivered in the history of the United States. It stands as an important symbol and the manifesto central to the ideology of the Civil Rights Movement.  The speech explained exactly what Martin Luther King envisioned the United States would become in the future, a place that would accept all people regardless of the color of their skin. Its importance for progress in racial equality is still felt to this very day and it continues to shape the ideas of equality in the United States. The speech was partially improvised by King, especially the famous portion from which the speech derives its famous title. Gallo notes particular actions within the video recording that indicates King was not reading directly from his papers in certain parts of the speech but was improvising at these moments instead.

In fact, it is notable how little he looks at his written documents during the latter portion of the speech by facing the crowd instead as he addresses them. In a moment of pause, one can see in the recording that he actually moves the notes he has taken aside and he continues to speak directly to the audience instead of looking at his notes for reference. Such is a testament to the ability of the man as an orator, a master of language, and his ability to reach out to the American public. His articulation led to one of the most famous speeches in American history, even if portions of it were not planned and given on the spot.

MLK Jr. giving his famous speech
Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech is one of the most famous in American history

5)  As of 2013, there are more than 900 streets named after Martin Luther King in the United States.
The name of Martin Luther King does not only live on in the pages of American history book but it actively lives on in city life nationwide. The name of King is seen throughout the country on streets that commemorate him for his achievements in the Civil Rights Movement and there are more than 900 streets in the United States, including the US territory of Puerto Rico, named after Martin Luther King. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia and the strong movements led by this man had very strong effects in this area; it is not surprising that 70 percent of these streets pave the way of the Southeast. His name can be spotted in the city from coast to coast, reminding everyone of his influence and the change he inspired in the nation.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s name appears on many streets

4)  This tradition of naming streets after Martin Luther King has extended beyond the United States.
Martin Luther King's name naturally strikes associations with social progress and attempts of living in a world of peace as well as racial equality. Such being the case, it is no surprise that his name would carry internationally. Jerusalem has a Martin Luther King Street in honor of the man and the sign is written in a combination of English as well as Hebrew. This bilingual sign demonstrates a crossover between cultures, a sense of international fraternity and the lengths to which King's message has traveled. Clearly, Martin Luther King's social movement transcends the US border and has strong resonance in other places worldwide. His name stands as a symbol in Israel for a peaceful future, especially in the recent times of turmoil and strife.

There is a Martin Luther King st. in Jerusalem written in Hebrew and English
By Danny-w, via Wikimedia Commons

3)  It took until the year 2000 for MLK Day to be observed by all of the States.

Hotel where MLK Jr. was assassinated
MLK Jr. was shot and killed in a hotel
By Bob Jagendorf, via Wikimedia Commons

It was not until recently that MLK Day became an observed holiday in all of the United States, Utah was the last state to adopt the federal holiday and Illinois was the first. The holiday was initially conceived in 1973, fifteen years after Martin Luther King’s assassination and death. By 1989, forty four out of the fifty states observed the holiday but it was not until 2000 that the remainder followed suit. This means that it took a gap of twenty seven years before MLK Day was acknowledged nationwide as an officially observed national holiday.


Martin Luther King Jr. Day signed into effect by Ronald Reagan
MLK Jr. day was created by Ronald Reagan

Tomb of MLK Jr. and his Wife, Coretta Scott King
Martin Luther King Jr has a tomb in his honor

2)  Among various academic accomplishments, Martin Luther King holds multiple honorary degrees.
Martin Luther King studied Sociology and Systematic Theology as a scholar, he eventually received his Ph.D. in 1955. After he received this degree, he was awarded many honorary degrees from many US institutions and some from foreign universities. Among the list are multiple degrees with the titles of Doctor of Law, Doctor of Humanities, Doctor of Divinity and others. Some of the universities that conferred these awards are Boston University, University of New Castle Upon Tyne and Yale University. His multiple degrees are a testament to his scholarly merit, his lasting impression in as well as outside of the academy and his influence nationwide.

Boston University
MLK JR received an honorary degree from the University of Boston
By Brian Chang-Yun Hsu, via Wikimedia Commons

University of New Castle Upon Tyne
MLK Jr received an honorary degree from University of New Castle Upon Tyne
By Pwosidon, via Wikimedia Commons

University of Yale
MLK JR received an honorary degree from the University of Yale
By WestportWiki, via Wikimedia Commons

1)  Martin Luther King was not his name originally.
Though Martin Luther King became famous under that name, he was originally named Michael Luther King and it was only later at the age of 5 that his name was changed to Martin. Martin Luther King’s name was not a choice on his own part but rather that of his father, who was likewise originally named Michael King. Both father and son became Martin after Martin Luther King, Sr. traveled to Germany and learned of the founder of Lutheranism, Martin Luther. His inspiration from this trip led him to change both of their names in honor of this religious figure who is most famous for his ninety five theses, a document challenging the Catholic Church’s teachings. Such a name change for the two contained symbolic ties for Martin Luther King, Sr. as a Baptist, which has some ties to Martin Luther’s call for reformation in the church.

Though Martin Luther King is most famous for the inspirational charge he led in the Civil Rights Movement, his legacy lives on in many other aspects of American society. He reminds the American public of the fight for equality, the struggles of the past and the potentials of the future. He was a social figure, a scholar, a religious leader and most importantly, a human. His merits are great and his achievements are numerous, he is very much an inspiration to everyone.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther King Jr. changed his name because of Martin Luther

Final Words
Whether it was his personal taste in the kitchen or his interest in Star Trek, the man is certainly relatable to the American public. He serves as an inspiration, a model to work after and a legacy that lives on in the extraordinary work he did for the Civil Rights Movement. His social activity still resonates to this day in American society, continuing to shape the United States and cultivate social revolution around the world.





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