12 Things You Probably Don't Know About Martin Luther King Jr.

We all love that mid-January three-day weekend, especially after the holiday chaos, but too few of us really take the time to think about why we get the third Monday in the first month of the year off. Well, we're celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- and it's about time we took a moment to honor, appreciate, and learn a little bit more about Dr. King and his legacy.


Anyone who has been through elementary school knows MLK's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Some of us were even required to memorize it. We know that he was a great civil rights leader, and that he helped lead the nation to desegregation and pave the way for equality.

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But I bet there are some things you didn't know about Martin Luther King Jr. Here are 12 surprising facts about the Baptist minister and social activist. 

1. He is one of only two Americans to be recognized by a national holiday. The other is George Washington.

2. Speaking of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, did you know that Stevie Wonder had a big part in making it happen? In 1980 he went on tour with a tribute song, "Happy Birthday," for the civil rights leader, and two years later, President Reagan signed the holiday into law.

3. He was born Michael King Jr., not Martin. His father, Michael Sr., changed both of their names after a trip to Europe, where he was inspired by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. King Jr. is believed to have been 5 years old at the time.

4. He skipped both ninth and eleventh grades and entered Morehouse College at 15. He graduated at 19 with a bachelor's degree in sociology.

5. He got a C in public speaking during his first year at Crozer Theological Seminary. Don't worry, he ended up graduating as valedictorian of his class, as well as student body president.

6. He honeymooned at a funeral parlor. Segregation laws made it difficult for Martin and his new wife Coretta to stay in a hotel, and a friend let them stay in his funeral parlor.

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7. He was arrested and put in jail nearly 30 times for acts of civil disobedience, as well as trumped-up charges. He was infamously jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone

8. He is currently the youngest male to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, and he was the youngest ever until Malala Yousafzai won it in 2014 at age 17.

9. He worked to bring about equality for black actors. Actress Nichelle Nichols almost left her role as Uhura on Star Trek for a Broadway career, but Dr. King convinced her to stay. As one of the first black actresses on a popular series to play a role other than a maid or nanny, she was told by King, "Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become an symbol. If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde-haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there. What you've accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay."

10. He was smoking a cigarette when he was shot on the balcony of Lorraine Motel. He rarely (if ever) smoked in public, and it's thought that he hid it so his children wouldn't see. His friend Samuel "Billy" Kyles crushed the cigarette he was smoking and took the pack from his pocket before help arrived.

11. An ambulance wasn't called immediately after the shooting because the hotel's switchboard operator stepped out of her office and saw that he'd been shot. She had a heart attack and died, and was the only one on the property who knew how to work the switchboard.

12. He won a Grammy. Of course it's nothing compared to the Nobel Peace Prize, but Dr. King won the award posthumously in 1971, for Best Spoken Word Recording. The album was "Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam."


Image via Image Via Dick DeMarsico/Library of Congress

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