On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. remains a highly regarded American hero. Even if you're already familiar with the renowned leader of the American civil rights movement, there are a few interesting facts about MLK that you might not know. The man led a fascinating life.
Born in Atlanta in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. became a leader in the movement to achieve legal equality for African Americans in the '50s and '60s. King's approach to nonviolent movements, which reflected the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi as well as his own Christian faith, meant relying on the power of speeches and acts of nonviolent protest, according to The King Center. King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech, as well as his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," remain some of the most powerful and important meditations in American history. Until the moment of his assassination in 1968, King worked tirelessly for the rights of African Americans.
With all of his great achievements in mind, it's easy to overlook some of the facts that round out King's life story. But as the following notes reveal, King was also a devoted student, tireless speechmaker, and big-time fan of a certain '60s sci-fi show.
1. King began college at age 15.
King's intelligence and aptitude for study was apparent from a very young age. In fact, King enrolled at Morehouse College at age 15, having skipped grades 9 and 12, according to History.com. He was a born scholar.
2. King went to prison for driving 5 miles over the speed limit.
King was imprisoned 29 times, as noted by History.com. His acts of alleged civil disobedience were sometimes the cause, but he also experienced imprisonment for pretty ridiculous charges. For instance, in 1956 King was sent to jail for driving 30 mph in a 25 mile-per-hour zone in Montgomery, Alabama, as further noted by History.com.
3. King gave another famous speech the day before his death.
On April 3, 1968, King delivered his "I've Been To The Mountaintop" speech just one day prior to his death. As this clip shows, his oratory skills are legendary, and his powerful words still ring true today.
4. The site of King's murder is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
The National Civil Rights Museum includes the original Lorraine Motel structure, the site of King's assassination. The renowned museum in Memphis, Tennessee offers visitors an in-depth and interactive look at the American Civil Rights movement.
5. King was the youngest person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the time.
In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights work, according to the official website of the Nobel Prize. He was only 35 years old, and the youngest person at the time to win the award. (Malala Yousafzai, who received the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, now holds that honor, according to the BBC.)
6. King faced other violent attacks before his murder.
King faced some tremendous and violent pushback for his beliefs. In 1956, King's home was bombed while his wife and children were inside, according to CNN. Thankfully, they were uninjured, but the attack came just two years prior to King's assassination.
7. Conspiracies still surround King's assassination.
Like many national tragedies, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. has created its share of conspiracy theories. But in June 2000, the Justice Department officially announced it found no evidence supporting conspiracies behind King's assassination, according to CNN. That said, a quick Google search for "MLK assassination theories" proves plenty of other people hold a different opinion.
8. He supported the TV show 'Star Trek's portrayal of Uhura.
In the '60s, Actress Nichelle Nichols considered ending her role as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. But Nichols' decision to keep working on the show came from an unusual source: MLK himself. During a change encounter at an NAACP fundraiser, King encouraged Nichols to stay on Star Trek and continue her portrayal of a black lieutenant who was an equal to her coworkers, competent and smart, according to an NPR interview with Nichelle Nichols. She took his advice and continued her inspiring role on the series.
9. King received many honorary degrees within his lifetime.
In addition to his own impressive academic career, King was lauded with multiple honorary degrees. During his lifetime, King received at least 18 honorary degrees from universities across the United States and abroad, according to the Louisiana State University library.
10. King delivered hundreds of speeches a year.
King's oratorary skills are the stuff of legend. Perhaps it's because he gave an impressive number of speeches throughout his life. In fact, King delivered up to 450 speeches in a single year, according to CNN. King scholars are working to bring some of these lesser-known works the recognition they deserve.
11. His birth name was Michael.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was actually born Michael King, Jr., according to Biography. Both he and his father, Michael King, Sr. changed their names to honor Martin Luther, the 1500s Protestant Reformation leader.
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