7 Interesting Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.
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Think you know the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life story by heart? After all, you studied the civil rights movement in history class and have seen a documentary or two about racial segregation. While the information in films and textbooks about the civil rights movement is certainly helpful, it usually fails to paint a complete picture of the leaders involved. For example, what did King like to do for fun, or how did he feel about issues outside of the civil rights movement?

Deepen your understanding of what King was like with this rundown of interesting facts about his life.

Martin or Michael King?

Although known to the public as Martin Luther King Jr., there’s much debate about what name the civil rights activist had at birth. The website Snopes.com reports that Martin Luther King Sr. intended for his son to share the same name as the leader of the Protestant Reformation, but birth records listed the child as “Michael King.” King Sr. said that confusion over his own name contributed to the mix-up. King Sr. grew up being called Mike as a nickname for “Martin” he said in a 1957 New York Post interview. The doctor who delivered King. Jr. listed him as “Michael,” believing that was his father’s legal name.

The Proposal

King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, but it wasn’t easy getting her down the aisle. She waited six whole months before agreeing to accept his marriage proposal, according to the New York Times.

Moreover, Scott made the unusual move (at that time) of requesting that the pledge to obey her husband be omitted from the wedding vows. Given that in the 1950s, the public largely viewed men as the head of the household, it’s telling that King didn’t object to Scott’s demand.

King Stabbed

James Earl Ray assassinated King on April 4, 1968, but this wasn’t the first time someone set out to kill the advocate for nonviolence.

On Sept. 20, 1958, a reportedly mentally ill black woman named Izola Curr stabbed King at a signing for his new book in Harlem. King recalled the incident while delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech, eerily given the day before he died. He remembered: “And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, ‘Are you Martin Luther King?’ And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. …Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. …the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. …It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died.”

Civil Rights and Gay Rights

One of King’s right hand men, Bayard Rustin, was gay. Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin reportedly introduced Gandhi’s nonviolent methods to the civil rights movement. In February 1956, when Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery to assist with the nascent bus boycott, Martin Luther King Jr. had not personally embraced nonviolence. In fact, there were guns inside King’s house, and armed guards posted at his doors.

Rustin persuaded boycott leaders to adopt complete nonviolence, teaching them Gandhian nonviolent direct protest. In March 2004 during a speech at Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, expressed her support for gay rights. "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union," she said. "A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

A "Star Trek" Fan

Who knew that King was a sci-fi geek? Apparently, he was an avid fan of the TV series “Star Trek.” When Nichelle Nichols (the only African-American woman on the program) wanted to leave the show, King encouraged her to stick around because so few black actors received opportunities to play unconventional characters.

In 1966 when Star Trek debuted, African Americans commonly played maids, chauffeurs and other domestic types. Nichols recalled King telling her at an NAACP event in Los Angeles that “Star Trek” allowed viewing audiences to see blacks as they should be seen. He also reportedly said that the program was the only show he and wife, Coretta, allowed their small children to stay up to watch. “Star Trek” would later break a longtime taboo by showing the first interracial kiss on television.

Against Vietnam

King opposed the Vietnam War, in part, because he believed that the Vietnamese people did not need liberation. He remarked in his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam”: “They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.”

First Grandchild

King’s first grandchild wasn’t born until the 21st century. Son Martin Luther King III’s wife, Arndrea Waters King, gave birth to a 7.5-pound girl named Yolanda Renee on May 25, 2008. Yolanda is named after her late paternal aunt who died the previous year.