7 Interesting Facts You May Not Have Known About Martin Luther King Jr.
Updated: May 21, 2022
For the past 36 years, each year on the third Monday of January, we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many, MLK Jr. Day is a day of rest and a shortened work week. For others, it is a time of reflection of the man, the mission for equality, and where we are in the stream of time fulfilling that mission not just here at home in the U.S. but around the world. When deciding on what to blog about this week, I felt it would be remiss to ignore the calendar's prompting of the observance of one of the greatest (or controversial depending on your worldview) men of the 20th century. Below I will detail a few lesser discussed, but very interesting facts about Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK Jr. Day Almost Didn't Happen
Originally a concept promoted by labor unions, Martin Luther King Jr. Day came to a bill vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979 but fell short by five votes. Yes, five. The reason? One argument was money; that it would be too expensive to pay federal employees for a holiday that honored a private citizen who never even held public office. At this time, there were only two other national holidays honoring historic figures George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
Stevie Wonder released a single, "Happy Birthday" to popularize a campaign, led by The King Center, to garner support from the corporate community and general public. Six million signatures were collected as a petition to Congress. President Reagan originally opposed the holiday, also citing cost concerns, but on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill for MLK Jr Day. This bill passed the Senate with a count of 78 to 22 and the House of Representatives by 338 to 90. Thus, the door was opened for the first observance of MLK Jr. Day on January 20, 1986.
His Mother Was Murdered Too
Talk about family tragedy. At the age of 69 years old, Ms. Alberta Christine Williams King was shot in killed on June 3, 1974 while at church. The assailant was Marcus Wayne Chenault, a 23-year-old self-identified Black Hebrew Israelite. Ms. King was not the initial target. The original target was her husband, Martin Luther King Sr., however, Chenault decided to shoot Ms. King instead because she was closer to him.
His Death Foreshadowed?
When we think of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., his most famous speech or easily recalled speech is the "I Have a Dream," speech. It's included in almost every MLK Jr. observance or Black History Month program across the nation.
Just as beautiful and even more chilling considering what was to come was his, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," which was delivered during his support of the Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike on April 3, 1968. Here is an excerpt of the ending of the speech from Rev:
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. I’ve looked over and 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! So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"
Before "Final Destination" Was a Movie Franchise
We know that on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN dying by gunshot wound. However, lesser known is that ten years earlier, the civil rights icon had narrowly escaped death by stabbing. On September 20, 1958, MLK Jr. was autographing books in the shoe section of Blumstein's Department Store in Harlem. A well-dressed African-American woman approached asking, "Is this Martin Luther King?" After King answered, "Yes, it is," Izola Ware Curry stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener.
Ten years later in his 1968 speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," MLK Jr. mentioned this stabbing attack and stated if he "had sneezed" during his long, complicated surgery to remove the blade, he would have died. The next day after giving this speech, MLK Jr. died after being shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.
Struggled With His Faith
One of the lesser talked about truths of MLK Jr.'s life is that there was a period of time where he struggled with his faith. Around age 13, he was skeptical of Christianity even denying the bodily resurrection of Christ. When we look at adolescence, it is a time of questioning, well everything. Considering the context of the world he lived in at the time, and the changes incidental to youth, it is not surprising. It makes him even more relatable and proof that where you are in your teens, does not necessarily equal your final destination as an adult. Therefore, to any of my younger readers out there, do not give up; give yourself grace and space to learn and grow.
What Is In A Name?
Anytime most U.S. born citizens see the initials MLK or MLK Jr. it is automatic that we know or assume that it is referring to Martin Luther King Jr.
Lesser known, is that he was not born Martin but born Michael. That's right! Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr. after his father Michael King Sr.
In 1934, Michael King Sr. went on a trip for the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in which he visited places like Rome, Tunisia, Egypt, Jerusalem, Bethlehelm, and Berlin. So inspired by the lessons he learned at the sites associated with reformation leader Martin Luther, he changed his name and his son's name to Martin Luther.
That M in MLK could have very well been Michael rather than Martin. I sometimes wonder if the trajectory of his life would have been the same without the name change?
Rarely On His Birthday And Sometimes With Opposition
MLK Jr. was born January 15, 1929. The date agreed upon to observe his birthday is the third Monday of January. So in 2022, his birthday will be observed on Monday, January 17th even though his birthday was actually Saturday, January 15th.
Even more, in the states of Alabama and Mississippi, MLK Jr. Observance is shared with General Robert E. Lee, yes from the Confederacy.
Talk about two men on two totally opposite ends of the aisle having to share a day together.
On MLK Jr. Day schools and offices are generally closed. People either sleep-in, get caught up on chores, or get out and celebrate or advocate for change and justice. Regardless of how you choose to spend it, take a moment to reflect on the message of the man that was and the future he knew we could all have if we all focused on finding common ground with those in our community.
If you know of any interesting facts we missed, please feel free to comment below. We'd love to hear from you.
Until next time my readers. Peace and love.
"The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
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