Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and wife, Coretta

Although most widely known for his leading role in the African American civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a tireless advocate for the nation’s working class and the oppressed around the world.

There has been so much information printed about Dr. King, and we bet you think you know a lot about him. We discovered a few little-known facts about Dr. King that may surprise you.

  • After the peaceful 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King made his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, the FBI continued to label him a national security threat. William Sullivan, the then head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence division, wrote in a 1963 memo:

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.

  • During his short, 12-year career in the public eye, Dr. King delivered an astounding number of public speeches. It’s estimated that between his weekly sermons at church and media appearances, he spoke an average of 450 times per year, according to CNN.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s birth name was Michael and his father changed his name to Martin when he was 5-years-old. Dr. King’s father had traveled to Germany and was inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther.
  • It is no surprise that Dr. King was a brilliant student who skipped grades 9 and 12 before enrolling at Morehouse College in 1944 at age 15! Dr. King’s father and maternal grandfather were graduates of the Atlanta-based college. Dr. King was also ordained before receiving his sociology degree from the famed institution at age 19.
  • Dr. King managed to escape an assassination attempt ten years before he was killed.  On September 20, 1958, Dr. King was at a Harlem department store signing copies of his new book, Stride Toward Freedom, when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked, if he was Martin Luther King, Jr. After Dr. King responded to the stranger, Curry then stated, “I’ve been looking for you for five years.” The woman then plunged a seven-inch letter opener into Dr. King’s chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and the civil rights leader underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told Dr. King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. He actually forgave his attacker.
  • Dr. King’s mother was killed by a bullet. On June 30, 1974, 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Atlanta’s famed 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 deranged gunman stated that Christians were his enemy. Chenault went on to declare how he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation. The gunman killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The killer received a life sentence.
  • Distraught over the death of his grandmother, a heartbroken King jumped out of a second-story window at age 12.
  • Dr. King was arrested 29 times, often on trumped-up charges. He was once jailed for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.
  • Dr. King was a smoker but was careful not to get caught publicly with a cigarette in his mouth.
  • Due to segregation in Alabama back in 1953, there were no hotel honeymoon suites available to African-Americans. So, when Dr. King and Coretta married they had to spend their wedding night in the back room of a funeral parlor.
  • Dr. King was a HUGE Star Trek fan, a real trekkie! He so loved the then popular sci-fi TV show that when actress Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) thought about leaving, he actually persuaded her to remain on the show.
  • After spending several of his young-adult years in Boston, Dr. King reportedly referred to it as his second home. He returned to the New England city several times throughout the rest of his life.
  • Dr. King’s autopsy revealed that although he was only 39-years-old when he was killed, he had the heart of a 60-year-old man which physicians attributed to stress.
  • According to The New York Times, one of the staff members who worked at the hotel where Dr. King was assassinated died shortly after the reverend. The motel owner’s wife was so traumatized by the sight and sound of Dr. King’s death that it caused her to have a fatal stress-induced heart attack.
  • In 1964, Dr. King was sent an anonymous letter threatening to disclose information detailing his alleged extramarital affairs to the masses. In order to maintain his privacy, the letter urged Dr. King to either commit suicide or stop participating in the civil rights movement, according to the New York Times. Dr. King ignored the letter and continued his crusade against social injustice.
  • Dr. King is the first non-president to have his birthday become a national holiday. South Carolina was the final state to officially observe the national holiday in 2000.