9 Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

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

January 17, 2020
MLK Jr. with JFK in 1963

Several prominent civil rights leaders—including Martin Luther King Jr.—meet with President John F. Kennedy at the White House after the March on Washington, D.C., in 1963.

U.S. Library of Congress

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated on Monday, January 20, 2020. Celebrate this revolutionary civil rights leader with 9 quick facts about his life—and his work. 

9 Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. He was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. His father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany in 1934 and, inspired by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther, changed his name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.

  2. King 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 was considering 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 got a C in public speaking during his first year at seminary, but by his final year, King was receiving straight As and had become the valedictorian of his class.

  5. When he 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 such trumped-up charges 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.) In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that named the third Monday in January as the holiday observance “Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday.” It took 17 years for all 50 states to recognize the holiday. The last states to officially observe it were Arizona in 1992, New Hampshire in 1999, and Utah in 2000.

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


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