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9 Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

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Learn About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., A Revolutionary Civil Rights Leader

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How much do you know about Martin Luther King Jr.? Here are 9 surprising facts about this revolutionary civil rights leader—and his work!

9 Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. He was named Michael, not Martin! The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. When he was only five-years-old, his father—a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church—traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. (His father changed his own name as well as his son’s name.)

  2. Martin was a gifted student! He entered college at the age of 15. He skipped grades 9 and 12 before enrolling at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather, in 1944.

  3. Although he was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, he considered becoming a doctor or a lawyer instead. He later decided that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape” and entered the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, graduating with his PhD at the age of 25.

  4. He was a harder worker!  It’s hard to believe now, but Martin got a C in public speaking during his first year at seminary. By his final year, he was receiving straight As and had become the valedictorian of his class.

  5. When Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he was the youngest person to do so, at age 35. (Malala Yousafzai now holds the record, winning the 2014 prize at age 17.)

  6. His recording of “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for 1971.

  7. He was jailed 29 times, often on trumped-up charges such as driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mph zone in Alabama in 1956.

  8. In a speech on April 3, 1968, he told the audience: “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.” He was assassinated the next day.

  9. He is the only person born in the United States whose birthday is a federal holiday. (George Washington was born before the United States came to be.)

It was President Ronald Reagan who signed a bill in 1983 which named the third Monday in January as the holiday observance “Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday.” 

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Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes

Dr. King is famous for his nonviolent philosophy and methodology. He believed in the “Beloved Community” where all people are valued, respected and treated with dignity. His goal was to create a more just, humane and peaceful world. He was not aiming for conflict-free utopia, but a society based in justice and a society that shunned violence.

Here are 15 of Dr. King’s powerful and inspiration quotes. His own words truly demonstrate his philosophy best. 

“Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.”

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”

“Let no man pull you so slow as to hate him.”  “I have decided to stick with love…hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving.”

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

“It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but the positive affirmation of peace.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Read more about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work here.

2023 Almanac Club