Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered as a civil rights activist who promoted peaceful nonviolent methods for achieving racial equality in America. He is also known for his now infamous speech, “I Have a Dream,” which was delivered at the 1963 Freedom March on Washington. But there is much more to the man, his life, and the associated January holiday. Read on to learn five unusual and often unknown facts about Dr. King and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
1. MLK Jr.’s First Name was not Originally Martin
Named after his father, Martin Luther King Jr. was actually born Michael King Jr. However, his father changed both his own name and that of his son to Martin Luther King when King was just a young boy. The senior King was inspired by protestant reformation leader Martin Luther and decided to take the name for himself and his son in 1931 when King Jr. was only about two. His father legally changed Martin Luther King Jr.’s name on his birth certificate when he was around five or six years of age.
2. MLK Jr. Started College Early at a Young Age
Martin Luther King Jr. skipped two grades in high school, the ninth and eleventh grades. After finishing high school early he enrolled as an undergraduate student at Morehouse College at age 15. By the time he was 19 he had earned a degree in Sociology and subsequently attended Crozer Theological Seminary, followed by Boston University where he earned his doctorate and ultimately became Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
3. MLK Jr. Spent His Wedding Night in an Unusual Location
Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott were married by King’s father at Coretta’s Alabama family home in 1953. That evening the couple drove to the nearby city of Marion and attempted to get a hotel room for their wedding night. However, at the time, many hotels were owned by whites who would not rent rooms to non-whites. Unable to rent a hotel room, Dr. King and his new bride ended up spending their wedding night at a funeral parlor owned by blacks. Eventually, the Kings finally took a belated honeymoon to Mexico years later in 1958.
4. MLK Jr. was a Grammy Winner
At the 13th Annual Grammy Awards in 1971 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording for his speech, “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.” And for an additional bit of trivia, Dr. King was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012 for a 1963 20th Century Fox recording of his “I Have a Dream” speech from the Freedom March on Washington.
5. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was not Originally Observed by all 50 States
The federal holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy did not come easily. Congress was initially divided over whether or not Dr. King deserved such an honor as to have a federal holiday named after him. Part of the controversy was due to King’s views on the Vietnam War. Ultimately, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was passed when President Ronald Reagan signed federal legislation in support of the holiday in late 1983.
Although the state of Illinois was ahead of the curve in naming a holiday for Dr. King in 1973, not all states followed suit. When the first official federal observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day occurred on January 20, 1986 only 27 of the 50 states honored the holiday. The state of Arizona, for example, did not vote in favor of recognizing the holiday until 1992 and only after the NFL rescheduled the location of the 1993 Super Bowl from Tempe, AZ to Pasadena, California in protest of Arizona’s resistance to the holiday. Other states gave the day alternate names, such as Utah calling it Human Rights Day. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states recognized January 20th as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Biography Channel Website (2014). Martin Luther King Jr. biography. Retrieved online http://www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr-9365086
Huffington Post (2013, January 21). 10 Things you may not have known about Martin Luther King Jr. Retrieved online http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/21/10-unknown-mlk-facts_n_2520731.html#slide=2007068
King, Martin Luther (Jr.), Carson, C., Holloran, P., Luker, R., & Russell, P. (1994). The papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., volume 2. Berkley & Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
The King Center. Frequently asked questions. Retrieved online http://www.thekingcenter.org/faqs
The Recording Academy (2011, November 21). The Recording Academy announces 2012 Grammy hall of fame inductees. Retrieved online http://www.grammy.org/files/press-release/pdf/2012halloffamerelease_final.pdf