Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the foremost figures in American history, a giant of the civil rights movement who advocated for passive resistance as a means to change the system. He’s well known for his rousing “I Have a Dream Speech”, the March on Washington, and his work on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which were essential in changing prejudicial government policies. Here are some lesser-known facts about this great man that you may not have known.
He was originally named Michael – as was the father from whom he got the “Jr.”. Both of their names were changed when Martin was two years old, following a trip to Germany where his father, a Baptist minister, was inspired by Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran sect of Christianity.
King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize at 35, making him the youngest male to do so to date; he was also the youngest-ever recipient until recently, when Malala Yousafzai received the award at age 17. Aside from this prestigious honor, King Jr. also has a Grammy to his name: in 1971 he posthumously won Best Spoken Word Album for his speech “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam”.
An excellent student, Dr. King skipped both 9th and 11th grade and began his freshman year at Morehouse College at the age of 15. In his time there, he became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and graduated with a degree in sociology.
Rather unusually, King and his new wife Coretta Scott spent their honeymoon in a funeral parlor: when they married in 1953, hotel establishments didn’t provide honeymoon suites for African-Americans, so a friend of King’s who owned a funeral home loaned it to the newlyweds for the evening.
Dr. King was also a lifelong smoker, which many people don’t know because he took pains to hide it, both from the public and from his children, who he hoped would never become smokers. He smoked in private and never where he might be photographed.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only non-president American citizen to have a national holiday in his name.