We all know of the man and the legacy– the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is and continues to be one of the most prominent figures in American history. He is the only American to have a day named after him who was not a former president. His speeches, quotes and books live on and have continued to be a larger part of the dark and sordid American story. His light shines just as bright today as it did when he marched from Selma to Montgomery and through the streets of Chicago.
As we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, there are the things that we know about him that are called to our memory every year– his birth in January, his proud rich history as a Morehouse man, his marriage to Coretta Scott and his four children. However what about the things that made him who he was outside of what we already know. In addition to all of the things we know and love about the man, what about those things that are not discussed as often? Who was the man behind the man?
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was originally born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. When he was five years of age, his father, who was also a minister, traveled to a conference in Germany where he was introduced to the work of theologian and Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. Michael King Sr was so impressed with the work and teachings of Martin Luther that when he returned home, he not only changed his name to Martin Luther King, he changed the name of his first born son as well. In 1934, Michael King Jr. became Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout his life, family and close friends, except his wife, referred to him as Mike.
At the age of 12, Dr. King attempted suicide. Left home to watch over his grandmother, King snuck out of the house to go and watch a parade. While he was gone, his younger brother fell down the banister and knocked their grandmother over. While it was later shown that his grandmother Jennie Williams, died of a heart attack, young Martin felt guilty about not being home and felt somehow responsible for her death. He jumped from a second story window in the family home.
Dr. King was a good singer and sang in several choirs throughout his life. He skipped both the 9th and 12th grades in high school, leading him to enter the hallowed halls of Morehouse at the young age of 15. Morehouse was the alma mater of both his father and his maternal grandfather Rev. A.D. Williams. While in college King was known to drink beer and shoot pool. He was known as a pool shark during his time. Known for his amazing oratorical skills, King once received a C in public speaking. King graduated from college at the age of 19, the age when most of us are just completing our first year of college or the age when some people enter college.
After graduating Morehouse King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he graduated as valedictorian and served as student body president. While at Crozer, King met and fell in love with a White cafeteria worker, which was not acceptable to his father. His father also did not approve of his relationship with Coretta Scott. Martin Sr. had actually wanted his son to marry Mattiwilda Dobbs, an opera singer who came from a prominent Atlanta family. King defied his father’s wishes and went on to marry Coretta Scott, with whom he had four children.
“Of course I was religious. I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy ‘s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice”.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King was the 1st president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and served as the president from the creation of the conference until his death in 1968. King spoke in the shadow of Washington on more that one occasion. His first speech there was given on May 17, 1957, during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. King delivered an address on voting rights entitled “Give Us the Ballot.”
In 1963, King was captured on the cover of Time Magazine as the “Man of the Year.” He was the first African American to be captured on the cover of the magazine. Barack Obama was the second African American “Man of the Year” cover for Time Magazine.
King was known to enjoy a good joke and was also a Trekkie. It was King who urged Nichelle Nichols to keep her role on Star Trek as Princess Uhura. He encouraged her to keep the role noting the positive image of a Black women on television.
During his work for the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King was jailed 29 times.
At the time of his death, King had no will. He also died with extremely limited financial assets, since most of his money was donated to the Civil Rights Movement. This led to many court battles over the use of his intellectual properties as well as ownership rights to his speeches, images, recordings and literary works. Many noted celebrities stepped in to provide financial assistance to his family after his death.
King also died with the heart of a sixty-year-old man, though he was only 39. This was mainly attributed to stress.
Many may not know that Dr. King was awarded a posthumous Grammy in the Best Spoken Word Album category for his speech “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.” This honor was awarded to him in 1971. King is also a part of the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Dr. Kings impact is global. The King holiday is not only celebrated in the United States but in Toronto, Canada and Hiroshima, Japan.
While we celebrate the life and legacy of this great man, let us also remember and celebrate the man not many people knew, the man who was not originally interested in becoming a minister, the man who received a C in public speaking but went on to become one of the most famous orators of our time, the man who worked tirelessly but who also found time to enjoy a game of pool and maybe a cold beer. Let us remember the man for the man that he was in addition to the life and legacy he left behind.
Klein, Christopher, (2013, April 4). 10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr., Explore 10 surprising facts about the civil rights leader. Retrieved from www.history.com
Hiskey, Daven, (January 18, 2013). 20 Interesting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Facts, Retrieved from www.todayifoundout.com
Collins, Kiara, (2018 )18 Facts You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr., Retrieved from www.blavity.com
Carson, Clayborne, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Time Warner, 2000