- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil-rights activist who helped end segregation in the US.
- Martin isn’t his given name — he was born Michael King Jr., after his father.
- On top of receiving two bachelor’s degrees, he received a doctor of philosophy at Boston University.
But it took a while for all 50 states to get on board with honoring the activist.
By the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter pledged his support of the holiday, but the King Holiday Bill didn’t pass in Congress.
To help garner support in the following years, Stevie Wonder wrote and recorded his song “Happy Birthday” in honor of Dr. King. He also joined the reverend’s wife on a four-month tour to advocate for the holiday.
After the tour, they delivered a petition to the speaker of the house with 6 million names on it.
According to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford, in the orientation, he highlighted the contradictory nature of the US constitution in the context of discrimination.
In 1934, after King Sr. attended an international Baptist conference in Germany where he became inspired by the teachings of 16th-century religious thinker Martin Luther, he changed both his name and his son’s.
At the time, Dr. King was already 5 years old, so he remained “Mike” to his closest friends and family for the rest of his life, according to Time.
As a child, his white friend suddenly refused to play with him anymore, and he credited this betrayal as the moment he first became interested in fighting against racism.
His work ethic allowed him to be promoted, and he became the youngest assistant manager for The Atlanta Journal delivery station at age 13.
In his autobiography, he wrote that he wasn’t afraid to openly question everything he had been taught, even when it got him into trouble.
“At the age of 13, I shocked my Sunday school class by denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus,” he wrote. “Doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly.”
But according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford, after he took a bible course with Dr. George D. Kelsey, he was inspired to use ministry as a medium for social justice and racial reform.
He was named valedictorian and honored with a fellowship that covered part of his graduate-study expenses.
But of all the great texts that influenced him, the essay “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau was perhaps the most impactful.
According to his autobiography, Dr. King said Thoreau’s belief that an individual should not cooperate with an evil system greatly influenced his worldview. It also inspired his belief in his own ability to enact social change at the individual level.
The couple had their very first interaction over a brief phone call, during which they agreed to meet in person.
At the time, Scott was studying opera at The New England Conservatory for Music and hoped to be a concert singer.
Dr. King wrote in his autobiography, “She was a mezzo-soprano and I’m sure she would have gone on into this area if a Baptist preacher hadn’t interrupted her life.”
After enjoying a beautiful ceremony lead by King Sr., the couple looked for a place to stay for the night.
At the time, no hotels in their area welcomed black couples as guests, so, according to Brides.com, the pair spent their first night together at a family friend’s house — but he happened to be an undertaker who worked out of his home.
At the time, King was only 26 and pretty much unknown in activist spaces, though he had previously expressed interest in social justice.
He originally opposed the boycott because he worried that it was unethical to put people’s jobs at risk.
But when he realized the ultimate goal behind the protest, he volunteered to use his church’s basement as a meeting spot for boycott organizers. During their first meeting, the group elected Dr. King as their president because no one else stood up to take the role.
He then wrote his very first public, political speech in less than an hour.
Additionally, he published a book of his most-requested sermons, a collection of his broadcasted addresses, and an autobiography.
It’s estimated that between his weekly sermons at church and media appearances, he spoke an average of 450 times per year, according to CNN.
Although the famed “I Have a Dream” speech will always hold a special place in history, it certainly wasn’t the only memorable address he delivered during his life.
The goal of this address was to push for union representation, safer working conditions, and living wages.
He told the crowd, “And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
In the aftermath of his death, some people found the language he used to be an eerie indication that he knew his death was imminent.
The attack resulted in a life-threatening injury close to his heart, but he received prompt emergency medical care and survived.
According to Time magazine, although Kennedy was a registered Democrat, his views on civil rights and racial justice had been unclear.
But upon learning of the reverend’s unjust treatment by the police department, a key advisor told Kennedy that his response to the situation would determine his voter turnout in the election.
As a result, Kennedy called Scott King and personally offered her his support.
Many historians credit this action to the large Black voter turnout in the 1960 election and Kennedy’s eventual win.
The motel owner’s wife was so traumatized by the sight and sound of his death that it caused her to suffer from a fatal stress-induced heart attack.
He increasingly used his platform to advocate for causes like guaranteed annual income and health care.
But he also vocalized his strong opposition to the Vietnam War, which caused him to lose a significant amount of American approval, according to Jenn M. Jackson’s MLK feature for Teen Vogue.
But the more he spoke in front of that 250,000-person crowd, the more impassioned he grew, which led him to go off course toward the end of the speech.
Those famous, poetic lines that nearly everyone in the US can quote — “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up … ” — were improvised, according to PBS.
Some of his notable trips include his visit to Ghana, where he celebrated the country’s independence, his overnight stint in the UK, where he accepted an honorary degree from Newcastle University, and his pilgrimage to India, where he met the followers of Mahatma Gandhi.
He was 35 years old then, making him the youngest male recipient to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
But five women — Malala Yousfazi (17), Mairead Corrigan (32), Tawakkol Karman (32) Betty Williams (33), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (33) — received the award at younger ages.
From the time he was a young boy, he sang in a gospel choir and believed in the healing power of music, especially hymns. He later went on to call singers like Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone his favorite artists.
And according to The International Musician, he enjoyed jazz music, too.
He even traveled to Berlin and delivered the opening address for the 1964 Jazz Festival titled “On the Importance of Jazz.”
The reverend reportedly asked the musician to play his favorite song, the hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” at an event they were both scheduled to attend later that evening.
But Dr. King never got to hear Branch’s rendition of the song. Moments after making this request, he was assassinated on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.