“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.”
~MLK, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.
Celebrated annually on the third Monday of January, MLK Day commemorates the legacy of activist, civil rights leader, and influential figure Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is honored for his instrumental work in advancing social justice and equality for African Americans and minorities through civil disobedience. Not merely just a day off, this national holiday is a chance to reflect on our gradual progress while recognizing the significant change we still must achieve, to educate and advocate for justice, and to engage in acts of service that meaningfully improve our communities. In honor of MLK’s revolutionary role in championing minority rights, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, here are five fascinating facts regarding this historic icon.
- martin isn’t his birth name
Born Michael Luther King Jr. on January 15, 1939, King’s father traveled to Germany where he became inspired by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther’s teachings, influencing him to change his name and his five-year-old son’s.
- king started college at age 15
Because he was a gifted student, King skipped grades nine and twelve before enrolling at Morehouse College in 1944 – the only college for African Americans at the time – where he graduated with a sociology degree. After graduating, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary, becoming class valedictorian in 1951 and elected student body president.
- he improvised part of his “I have a dream” speech
One of the most notable quotes in history, MLK’s “I have a dream” line, wasn’t initially part of his speech, as written by King and Clarence B. Jones. While his script was impactful, it didn’t fully resonate with the public until gospel singer Mahalia Jackson urged him to “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.”
- MLk was imprisoned nearly 30 times
King was arrested 29 times for so-called “crimes,” such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 for driving 30mph in a 25mph zone. Despite these setbacks, King demonstrated non-violence through peaceful protests, boycotts, sit-ins, and marches.
- he barely survived an assassination attempt a decade before his death
On September 20, 1958, while signing copies for his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom” in Blumstein’s department store, King was approached by Izola Ware Curry. She asked if he were Martin Luther King Jr. After replying yes, she plunged a seven-inch penknife into MLK’s chest, exclaiming that she had “been after him for six years.” Immediately, King was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent hours of emergency surgery, as the tip of the blade rested a mere fraction of an inch from his aorta, and just one sneeze could’ve punctured the artery and killed him. Despite his near-death experience, King bore no rage towards his mentally ill attacker, affirming his non-violent beliefs. His statement continues to reflect current society:
“A climate of hatred and bitterness so permeates areas of our nation that inevitably deeds of extreme violence must erupt…The experience of these last few days has deepened my faith in the relevance of the spirit of nonviolence; if necessary social change is peacefully to take place.”