10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Martin Luther King.
Today is a national holiday, and while many of you might be enjoying a day off from work, it's important to remember exactly why we celebrate this day each year.
In honor of the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we've put together a timeline of some of his achievements, as well as some lesser-known details about his personal and public life. Take some time to read his story before enjoying the rest of your holiday -- it's an inspiring one, to be sure.
He was actually named Michael, not Martin, when he was born. His father was also named Michael, but he decided to change his son's first name when he made a trip to Germany to visit the birthplace of the historic German theologian, Martin Luther.
As a teenager, MLK Jr. actually tried to commit suicide -- he was despairing over his grandmother's death at the time. He jumped from the second story of his house, but luckily, he wasn't fatally injured.
Despite the fact that he was troubled in his young life, Dr. King went on to do amazing things. He skipped grades because he was so brilliant, entering college at the tender age of 15. By 19, he had his bachelor's degree in sociology. His father wanted him to be a minister, and after some soul-searching, King decided the same. He attended seminary school in Pennsylvania, graduating with his PhD by age 25.
Throughout his work as one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King made plenty of important, poignant speeches and did incredible work within his communities. It didn't come without a price, though: King was arrested 29 times throughout his career, arrested for acts of civil disobedience and other trumped-up charges.
Gene Herrick / AP
Here's one such example, from his profile on Biography: "On October 19, 1960, King and 75 students entered a local department store and requested lunch-counter service but were denied. When they refused to leave the counter area, King and 36 others were arrested. Realizing the incident would hurt the city's reputation, Atlanta's mayor negotiated a truce and charges were eventually dropped.
But soon after, King was imprisoned for violating his probation on a traffic conviction. The news of his imprisonment entered the 1960 presidential campaign, when candidate John F. Kennedy made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Kennedy expressed his concern for King's harsh treatment for the traffic ticket and political pressure was quickly set in motion. King was soon released."
Despite being up against so much adversity, Dr. King went on with his work. He became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, and donated all the proceeds from that prize to initiatives in the Civil Rights Movement. Then on August 28th, he made his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech at the National Mall. Despite its power, the speech put a huge target on King's back, making him a huge concern for the FBI. They felt his speech was too empowering for black communities and wanted to avoid civil unrest, so they began threatening Dr. King. Luckily, their threats didn't change the impact his words had on black communities across America.
Then, on April 4th, 1968, the unthinkable happened: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in his hotel room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
From Biography: "Also on the day King was killed, he was out on the balcony for a smoke. While you’ll be hard pressed to find a picture of him smoking, he smoked regularly, though had a habit of hiding this partially due to the stigma, particularly within the church at the time, but also because he didn’t want his kids to take up smoking, and so didn’t like pictures of himself doing it, nor did he like to smoke when they were around. According to Rev. Kyles, after King was shot but before he was taken away by the ambulance, Kyles removed the package of cigarettes from King’s pocket and got rid of the cigarette butt, partially to attempt to hide the fact that King was smoking at the time he was shot."
He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at just 39 years old. During his short life, he managed to be more impactful than those who live twice as long, and his work changed the American social landscape forever.
There are only two other people in American history that have a national holiday in their honor, George Washington and Christopher Columbus. This makes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the only native born United States citizen to have a national holiday in his honor. Today is the day we remember his legacy, particularly in the racially tense, often troubling times we live in today. As Dr. King once said:
"Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace."