Martin Luther King Jr., an iconic figure in American history, is known for his contributions to the civil rights movement and his powerful speeches. However, there are many lesser-known aspects of his life that reveal a more complex and fascinating individual than most people realize. In this article, we will delve into the intriguing details of his life, from his early years to his untimely death, shedding light on some of the lesser-known facts and events that shaped his remarkable journey.
It might come as a surprise to many that Martin Luther King Jr.’s original name was not Martin but Michael. Both of his parents were named Michael King, and it was his father, Michael King Sr., who made the decision to change their names. In 1931, after a trip to Germany, King Sr. was inspired by the great German theologian Martin Luther. At that time, Martin Luther King Jr. was just two years old when his father decided to change his name to Martin Luther King Jr. This change marked the beginning of a legacy that would go on to shape the course of history.
At the tender age of twelve, Martin Luther King Jr. experienced a traumatic event that could have ended his life prematurely. In May of 1941, while King Jr. was away defying his parents’ wishes to see a parade, his grandmother suffered a heart attack and passed away. Upon returning home and learning of her death, he was overcome with grief and despair. Without hesitation, he climbed to the second floor and leapt from the window. This act of desperation highlights the deep emotional struggles he faced even as a young boy, foreshadowing the challenges he would confront later in life.
On April 4, 1968, a tragic event occurred at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis that forever changed the course of history. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, but he was not the only victim that day. Lorraine Bailey, the motel’s namesake and the wife of its owner, suffered a heart attack and died upon witnessing King’s murder. This unexpected tragedy compounded the chaos of the moment, as Reverend Samuel Kyles, a friend of King, attempted to call an ambulance from the hotel room. However, there was no one at the switchboard to make it happen, as Lorraine had been the operator and had suffered a heart attack herself. This unfortunate series of events contributed to the delay in sending an ambulance, ultimately leading to King’s death.
Reverend Kyles vividly recalled the chaotic scene, saying, “Immediately upon entering the room, I retrieved the phone in order to contact either an operator or an ambulance. The operator, however, had departed from the switches. At the switchboard, no one answered. The phone needs to be answered, I kept repeating. Additionally, the switchboard was unattended. Consequently, no one picked up the phone. The operator had stepped out into the courtyard to see Dr. King, as I discovered later. She suffered a heart attack upon witnessing the events. She had been the wife of the motel owner and had passed away shortly after. I yelled at the approaching police officers, who were brandishing their weapons, and told them to dial 911 on their radio. Shots were fired at Dr. King. ‘From where did the shot come?’ they demanded. I retrieved a blanket from one of the beds and draped it over him, neck-down, as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Seeing my friend on the balcony, bleeding to death, was an overwhelming experience. A short while later, an ambulance arrived and whisked him away.”
While Martin Luther King Jr. is not commonly associated with smoking, he was, in fact, a regular smoker. This surprising detail of his life was kept hidden for several reasons. First, there was a stigma associated with smoking, especially within the church during that era. Second, King did not want his children to pick up the habit, so he actively avoided being photographed while smoking and refrained from lighting up in their presence. Reverend Kyles, who was with King on the day of his assassination, revealed that just before the ambulance arrived to take King away, he discreetly removed a pack of cigarettes from King’s pocket and disposed of the cigarette butt, attempting to conceal the fact that King was smoking.
A decade before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. narrowly escaped death in a harrowing incident. On September 20, 1958, while on a book tour signing copies of “Stride Toward Freedom,” King encountered Izola Ware Curry. When King confirmed that he was indeed Martin Luther King Jr., Curry declared, “I’ve been searching for you for five years.” Without warning, she stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener.
The removal of the blade was a painstaking three-hour procedure, as it had to be done with great care to avoid damaging King’s aorta. Dr. Maynard, the surgeon who operated on him, later informed King, “You would have drowned in your own blood if you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting.” It was a miraculous escape from certain death, and it serves as a testament to King’s resilience and determination to continue his fight for civil rights.
Martin Luther King Jr. was not only a civil rights leader but also an exceptionally bright and ambitious scholar. He began his college education at the young age of fifteen when he enrolled at Morehouse College in 1944. Skipping two grades in high school (the ninth and eleventh), King displayed his intellectual prowess from an early age. At Morehouse College, he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at just 19 years old, a testament to his dedication to education and his pursuit of knowledge.
Despite his impressive academic achievements, Martin Luther King Jr. initially had doubts about entering the ministry, a path that would later define his life’s work. He harbored skepticism toward Christianity and the Bible, even discussing alternative career paths with his father, who was a Baptist preacher. Considering fields like medicine or law, King was uncertain about his calling until he came to realize the profound truths contained in the Bible. He made the pivotal decision to enroll in Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, embarking on a journey that would lead him to become a minister. Remarkably, he earned his doctorate at the tender age of 25, further cementing his position as a formidable intellectual force.
While Martin Luther King Jr. is renowned for his exceptional public speaking skills, it may come as a surprise that he received a less-than-stellar grade in public speaking during his first year of seminary. This grade is not indicative of his innate abilities, as even before attending seminary, his father considered him one of the most impressive public speakers he had ever heard. Regardless of the initial setback, King demonstrated remarkable growth and dedication. By his senior year, he had earned nothing but A’s, becoming the class valedictorian and president of the student body. This transformation highlights his unwavering commitment to honing his communication skills, which would later become a cornerstone of his leadership in the civil rights movement.
One of the lesser-known aspects of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life is his choice of honeymoon location. Contrary to what one might expect, it was not a traditional honeymoon destination. Instead, King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, spent their honeymoon at a funeral parlor. However, this decision was not due to any particular tragedy or misfortune. Rather, it was the result of a generous offer from a friend who allowed them to rent the space. This unconventional choice reflects King’s unique perspective on life and his commitment to his principles even during moments of personal celebration.
Beyond his civil rights activism, Martin Luther King Jr. also had a significant influence on popular culture. One remarkable example of this influence is his impact on the iconic television series “Star Trek.” King persuaded Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed the character Uhura, to continue her role on the show. Nichols, who later went on to work for NASA, recounted how King implored her to stay on “Star Trek” because her character defied the racial stereotypes of the time and served as a positive representation of a Black character in a prominent role. Uhura was depicted as a smart and equal-ranking crew member, challenging societal norms and showcasing the power of representation in the media.
In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was filled with remarkable moments, both well-known and lesser-known. From his early years and personal struggles to his transformative journey into ministry and his impact on civil rights, King’s story is a testament to resilience, determination, and the power of an individual to effect change. As we remember his legacy, it is important to delve deeper into the details of his life, appreciating the complexity of the man behind the iconic speeches and marches.