3. According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail nearly 30 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.
4. On September 20, 1958, Martin King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.
5. Martin King had come to Memphis in April 1968 to support the strike of the city’s black garbage workers, and in a speech on the night before his assassination, he told an audience at Mason Temple Church: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … 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. And 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.”
6. Ray, a career criminal, pled guilty to King’s assassination but later recanted. King’s son Dexter met publicly with Ray in 1997 and argued for the case to be reopened. King’s widow, Coretta, believed the Mafia and local, state and federal government agencies were deeply involved in the murder. She praised the result of a 1999 civil trial in which a Memphis jury decided the assassination was the result of a conspiracy and that Ray was set up to take the blame. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation released in 2000 reported no evidence of a conspiracy.
7. On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The deranged gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment
8. King wasn’t the only one to die at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. After he was killed, one of the hotel workers, Lorraine Bailey (who was also the wife of the motel owner and who it was named after), upon seeing King get shot, had a heart attack and later died from this. This was partially why there was such a delay in getting an ambulance as Lorraine was also the switchboard operator and so when Reverend Samuel Kyles attempted to call an ambulance using the phone in the motel room, nobody was at the switchboard to make that happen. In Rev. Kyle’s own words,
I ran into the room and picked up the phone to call an operator or to call an ambulance. But, the operator had left the switchboard. There was nobody on the switchboard. I was saying, “Answer the phone, answer the phone, answer the phone.” And there was nobody on the switchboard. So the phone was not answered. (I learned later that the operator had gone out into the courtyard to watch Dr. King. When she saw what happened, she had a heart attack. She was the motel owner’s wife, and she died subsequently.) The police were coming with their guns drawn, and I hollered to the police, “Call an ambulance on your police radio. Dr. King has been shot.” They said, “Where did the shot come from?” … While waiting for the ambulance to come, I took a spread from one of the beds and covered him from his neck down. … I cannot tell you the feelings I had seeing my friend there on that balcony bleeding to death. Finally the ambulance came and took him away.9. 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.
10. Martin Luther King Jr. was nearly assassinated a decade earlier than his ultimate death. While on a book tour, signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom, on September 20, 1958, King was approached by Izola Ware Curry who asked him if he was Martin Luther King Jr., which he of course replied affirmatively. When he said he was, she said “I’ve been looking for you for five years.” She then pulled out a letter opener and stabbed him in the chest.
It took three full hours to remove the blade. The reason? The sharp point end of the blade was pressing against his aorta and the doctors had to be extremely careful while removing it because of this. The doctor, Dr. Maynard, told him after, “If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting, your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.”
11. King Jr. skipped two grades in high school, 9th and 11th, and entered college (Moorehouse College) at the tender age of 15 in 1944. By 19, he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
12. He almost didn’t become a minister. After graduating from college, he still had serious doubts about Christianity and the Bible and told his father (who was a Baptist minister, as his grandfather had also been) that he didn’t want to be a minister and instead was considering becoming a doctor or a lawyer. He later decided that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape” and chose to become a minister, entering seminary at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He graduated with his PhD at the age of 25.
13. Although King today is often remembered as being an amazing public speaker, he got a C in public speaking during his first year at seminary. This likely isn’t because he was actually bad at public speaking at this point. His father noted that even before going to seminary King Jr. was one of the best public speakers he’d seen. Whatever caused his professor to give him a C, by his final year King had straight A’s, was the valedictorian of his class, and the student body president.
14. His honeymoon was spent at a funeral parlor… not because someone died, simply because a friend owned the parlor and offered to let him use it for his honeymoon.
15. King convinced “Uhura” on Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols (who incidentally later went on to work for NASA), to continue on with the role after the first season. Nichols stated he told her not to leave the show because she was not only playing a black person as a main character on TV, but she was also playing a character that didn’t conform to the stereotypical black person of the day, usually portrayed. Rather, Uhura was portrayed as an intelligent member of the crew and an equal to those around her.
16. King is to date the youngest male to win a Nobel Peace Prize, winning it in 1964 at the age of 35 (at the time he was the youngest overall for the Peace Prize). The youngest ever to win the Peace prize today is Malala Yousafzai who won it in 2014 at the age of 17.
17. King donated all of the $54,123 (about $400,000 today) he received for his Nobel Peace Prize to the Civil Rights movement. During his acceptance speech, he stated “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
18. King won a Grammy and was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and a Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom and the Gold Medal make sense, but how on Earth did he win a Grammy, you say? He won it in 1971 for Best Spoken Word Album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam”
19. His house was once bombed. This was during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted a total of 385 days.
20. His mother, Alberta Williams King, was also murdered. She was killed while attending church in Atlanta in 1974 by a 23 year old man, Marcus Wayne Chenault, who believed “all Christians are my enemies”. He shot and killed her while she was playing organ at the church.
21. King Jr.’s autopsy revealed that stress had taken a major toll on his body. Despite being just 39 at the time of his death, one of the doctors noted that he had “the heart of a 60 year old”.
22. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The last states to join up where Arizona in 1992, New Hampshire in 1999, and Utah in 2000. The holiday itself was originally signed into federal law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, with the first MLK holiday on January 20, 1986.
23. There are only two other people in American history that have a national holiday in their honor, George Washington and Christopher Columbus. As such, Martin Luther King Jr. is the only native born United States citizen to have a national holiday in his honor. (*note: While Washington was born in Virginia, obviously the United States did not yet exist. For reference, the first President to be born in the country of the United States was Martin Van Buren. He was also the first President not of Irish or British ancestry- his ancestors were Dutch.)
24. Today over 700 streets in the Unites States are named after Martin Luther King Jr., with one such street in almost every major city. This is not even counting the amazing number of buildings, schools, and the like named after him.
25. His “I Have a Dream” speech painted an even bigger target before on his back, not just with certain people in the general public, but with the FBI. This was a memo circulated throughout the FBI offices after the speech:
In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.The FBI later discovered King was supposedly having numerous affairs and sent him various anonymous letters stating such things as “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that” and threatening to blackmail him. In another anonymous letter supposedly from the FBI, they stated,
The American public, the church organizations that have been helping—Protestants, Catholics and Jews will know you for what you are—an evil beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.Many of the FBI’s surveillance records, written and audio records, concerning King are currently held in the National Archives, but are sealed from public access until 2027.