In 1934, King’s father, a respected Atlanta pastor known then by his birth name of Michael King Sr., embarked on a religious journey around the world. The senior King traveled to Rome, Tunisia, Egypt, Jerusalem, Bethlehem before arriving in Berlin to attend the Baptist World Alliance meeting. The trip to Germany, which occurred only one year after Adolf Hitler became chancellor, would have a profound effect on him. As he toured, the senior King gained a great respect for German monk and theologian Martin Luther, whose 95 Theses challenged the Catholic Church and ultimately split western Christianity.
Upon his return state-side, Martin Luther King Sr. changed his and his five-year-old son’s names in honor of the Protestant reformation leader. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth certificate would reflect this change on July 23, 1957, when it was officially revised.
King entered college when he was 15 years old
King 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 B.A. in Sociology at the age of 19. 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. Despite receiving a C grade in a public speaking class, 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 the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
King was arrested 29 times
His charges (many of which were dropped) ranged from civil disobedience to traffic violations. See more on his arrests at The King Institute.
King survived an assassination attempt a decade before his death
On September 20, 1958, King was at a Blumstein’s department store in Harlem for a book signing when a young woman slipped past the line of people to approach him. The woman, named Izola Ware Curry, asked if he was really Martin Luther King Jr. and after he replied “yes,” she thrust a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. Curry claims she had been after him for five years believing he had ties to the Communist Party.
The stab wound narrowly missed King’s heart and he underwent emergency surgeries that lasted hours. King would later issue a statement affirming his nonviolent beliefs and stated he had no malice feelings towards his attacker.
King family won murder conspiracy case against the government
On December 8, 1999, twelve jurors reached a unanimous decision that King’s death was a result of a conspiracy. The trial took place in Memphis, TN, 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 shooter but was set up to take the blame. After the evidence showed Ray did not pull the trigger, local, state and federal U.S government agencies, and the Mafia were 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 has been a global destination, resource center and community institution for over a quarter century.
This post was originally written by Shannon C., Social Media Volunteer, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.