Headlines have dominated for months by the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and other various issues. There have been protests, outrage, and numerous conversations, trials, and debates. Also, the critically acclaimed and praise worthy film, Selma, is in theaters right now. I read different articles today, and read some really interesting things. In light of all that, I decided to take a minute to celebrate Dr. King with a look at some lesser-known facts about him. After all, he achieved incredible things in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. He was inarguably a hero, but he was also an ordinary man. He is always worth talking about.
1. Even as a teenager he saw a world without segregation. When he was 15, Martin Luther King spent the summer working on a tobacco farm in Connecticut. King was born in Atlanta in 1929, in the still-segregated South — so it was the first time he experienced a world without segregation. “On our way here, we saw some things I had never anticipated to see,” he wrote in a letter to his father that June. “After we passed Washington there was no discrimination at all. The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit anywhere we want to.”
2. He graduated college at 19. MLK was an exceptionally bright kid and a stellar student. He skipped not one but two grades in high school, and was admitted to Morehouse College at the age of 15. He graduated from college with a B.A. in Sociology at the age of 19 before continuing his education at Crozer Theological Seminary in Boston, and later at Boston University’s School of Theology.
3. He won a Nobel Prize at 35. In 1964, King was the youngest person to date to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He was just 35 years old when he accepted the award. At his acceptance speech, King said he’d been inspired by the nonviolent legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, saying Gandhi had successfully freed India from the British Empire “only with the weapons of truth, soul force, non-injury, and courage.”
4. He didn’t come home a hero. If you’ve seen Selma already (and if you haven’t, do it!), then you know that the entire movie takes place after King wins the Nobel Prize — in fact, him winning the award is the very first scene! After that high point of international recognition, he returned home to a country that did not universally hail him as a hero — and where many of his fellow Americans still faced institutionalized discrimination. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had not yet been passed. Rather than resting on his laurels, King returned to grassroots organizing — leading the march in Selma and other places
5. His wedding night was spent at a funeral home. King met Coretta Scott when they were in college, and in the summer of 1953 they were married. She, too, became a leader in the civil rights movement and marched beside her husband, literally and figuratively. But, on their wedding night, the two slept in a funeral home, because the newly married pair were turned away from a whites-only hotel and ended up at a black-owned funeral home
6.He spoke out against the Vietnam War. We’re all familiar with the “I Have a Dream Speech,” but King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech is equally powerful stuff. Standing on the steps of Riverside Church in New York City, King urged the United States to stop all bombing in North and South Vietnam and instead come to a truce that could lead to peace talks. He also demanded America set a date for withdrawing troops from the country.
7.King was tenacious with pro-union. MLK was also firmly pro-union. In fact, the day he was assassinated, he was in Memphis, Tennessee, to plan a demonstration that supported sanitation workers seeking collective-bargaining rights. King’s message was not just one of racial equality, but one of economic equality.
8.Something Cool? He was a trekkie! On a less serious note, King was a total Trekkie. One famous King story holds that actress Nichelle Nichols — who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek in 1966 — was told one night that a fan wanted to see her. Rather than your standard Star Trek die-hard, she was greeted by Dr. King. He’d come to tell Nichols not to resign but to keep shattering stereotypes, and to tell her, as she recalls, that he was “the biggest Trekkie on the planet.”
9.He has always been accused of infidelity. This is something I’ve always gone back and forth with. I have always read that his affairs, which are still rumored but unsubstantiated, were also used as a weapon by the FBI in an attempt to undermine his power. In an infamous and ugly letter that was recently discovered, the agency threatens to use the rumored affairs as a smear campaign against him. In the many years since his death we haven’t had a woman come up with some tell all book or some exclusive interview. So in my opinion its all up in the air. Who knows.
10. Martin Luther King day was recognized for nearly 20 years. King was killed in 1968, but his place in history wasn’t cemented for decades. MLK Day was made official in 1982 — but not every state honored it until 2000. The holdouts were Arizona (1993), New Hampshire (1999), Virginia (2000), Utah (2000), and South Carolina (2000). Even though each of the 50 states observes the holiday today, they’re still divided on how to celebrate it and even what to call it (in Alabama, for example, the day is titled “Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Birthday”). Other places have actually adopted the day, too, including Hiroshima and Toronto.
11. Coretta Scott King had a huge and vital role in making his birthday a holiday. She founded the King Center and sought to make his birthday a national holiday. King finally succeeded when Ronald Reagan signed legislation which established Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Have any other cool facts? I’d love to hear them. Hope you enjoyed reading.