Five little-known facts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested for loitering outside a courtroom where his friend Ralph Abernathy is appearing for a trial in Montgomery, Alabama. (photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extraordinary man of many talents and has left behind an enormous legacy. Below you will find five little-known facts about the life and work of King.

1) Martin Luther King, Jr. was actually named Michael when he was born.

In 1934, his father traveled to Germany and was inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader, Martin Luther. Upon his return, Martin Luther King, Sr. changed his and his five-year-old son’s names.

2) King was an extraordinary student.

He skipped two grades and entered college at the age of 15. He was admitted to Morehouse College in 1944 and graduated in 1948 with a BA in sociology. The Morehouse president, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, became an inspirational figure in King’s life. King continued his education at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. There he was elected student body president and graduated valedictorian of his class in 1951. He enrolled in Boston University’s doctoral program and was awarded his Ph.D. at the age of 25. While in Boston, King met Coretta Scott and became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

3) Although King stood firm in his beliefs toward a nonviolent movement, he was still arrested nearly 30 times.

His charges (often times dramatized) ranged from civil disobedience to traffic violations.

4) King survived an assassination attempt a decade before his death.

On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem for a book signing. People lined up at Blumstein’s department store to have their copies of Stride Toward Freedom signed. A young woman named Izola Ware Curry approached Dr. King and asked him if he was really Martin Luther King, Jr. After he replied “yes,” she thrust a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. Curry claims she had been after him for five years. The stab wound just missed his heart and King underwent hours of emergency surgery. The doctors told him that if he had so much as sneezed, he would not have survived. During recovery, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent beliefs and stated he had no malice feelings towards his attacker. It was later found that Curry was mentally ill and King decided to not press charges against her.

5) After his death, the King family filed a civil case against the U.S. government and won.

On December 8, 1999, 12 jurors reached a unanimous decision that King’s death was the result of a conspiracy. The trial took place in Memphis, Tenn. and included four weeks of testimony and over 70 witnesses. The jury was convinced by the evidence and reached a verdict after only an hour of deliberation. Overwhelming evidence showed James Earl Ray was not the actual shooter but was set up to take the blame. The evidence showed Ray did not pull the trigger. Local, state and federal U.S government agencies, and the Mafia were said to blame.

The King family was awarded $100, which they donated to charity. To them, it was never about the money. They just wanted the truth out, and for justice to be served. Established in 1968 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) has been a global destination, resource center and community institution for over a quarter century. Visit their site <> for more information.