WTOP first published this story for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 2019.
WASHINGTON — Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate Monday, was killed by an assassin at age 39, but led a well-documented life. Some of the less-known things he did, however, make his story even more impressive.
With information from the King Center for Nonviolence; the King Institute Encyclopedia, published by Stanford University, and a 2013 WTOP interview with King’s lawyer, here are some facts about King’s life that aren’t always at the top of our minds.
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is his most celebrated, but it wasn’t his first one at the Lincoln Memorial. That came May 17, 1957, the third anniversary of the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision, when nearly 25,000 demonstrators gathered to protest the lack of progress made in desegregating schools since the decision declared such segregation unconstitutional.
best-known passages from the speech:
“Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.”
“Give us the ballot, and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954.”
“I say to you this afternoon: Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability. I realize that it will cause restless nights sometime. It might cause losing a job; it will cause suffering and sacrifice. It might even cause physical death for some. But if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent life of psychological death, then nothing can be more Christian.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., of Montgomery, Alabama speaks at a mass demonstration before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington as civil rights leaders called on the government to put more teeth in the Supreme Court’s desegregation decisions, May 17, 1957. King said both Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the cause of justice on civil rights questions. (AP Photo/Charles Gorry)
ASSOCIATED PRESS/Charles Gorry
Martin Luther King Jr. was born with the first name Michael. (So was his father.) His father
changed both their names when he got back from a trip to Germany, the homeland of the Protestant leader Martin Luther, in 1934.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks to an overflow crowd in Detroit’s Cobo Hall Arena on Sunday, June 24, 1963, following a Freedom March. An estimated 100,000 walkers paraded to the hall through downtown Detroit and gathered in the hall and overflowed outside to hear him speak. (AP Photo)
King’s first published speech came when he was 15 and a junior in high school, on the theme “
The Negro and the Constitution.” It ended:
“My heart throbs anew in the hope that inspired by the example of Lincoln, imbued with the spirit of Christ, they will cast down the last barrier to perfect freedom. And I with my brother of blackest hue possessing at last my rightful heritage and holding my head erect, may stand beside the Saxon — a Negro — and yet a man!”
In this Feb. 5, 1965 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is interviewed by newsmen as he left jail in Selma, Ala. The integration leader was arrested four days ago in a voter registration protest drive. (AP Photo/HC, File)
King’s philosophy of nonviolence was highly influenced by that of Mahatma Gandhi, of India, of whom he heard during
a sermon delivered by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, who had just returned from India. “His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works,” King later said.
American civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers after landing at the airport in New Delhi, India, Feb. 10, 1959. King, who is known here as the American Gandhi, flew here on what he calls a “four-week pilgrimage in India which to me means Mahatma Gandhi.” (AP Photo/R. Satakopan)
began his studies at Morehouse College when he was only 15. He skipped 9th and 12th grades.
He is third from left in the front row, listening to a speaker at Morehouse in 1948. King subsequently graduated from the college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. (AP Photo)
King was arrested
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right, accompanied by Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, center, is booked by city police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., on Feb. 23, 1956. The civil rights leaders are arrested on indictments turned by the grand jury in the bus boycott. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick)
stabbed with a letter opener by a mentally ill woman in 1958 during a book signing. The police officer who came to his aid told him the blade was so close to his heart that he’d better not sneeze or even talk. The day before he was killed, King remembered the incident in a speech.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he is recovering from a stab wound following an attack by a woman. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)
King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, also died from a gunshot, in 1974, while playing the organ in church.
In this Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 photo, Christine King Farris, the sister to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and daughter of Martin Luther King Sr., sits next to the organ played by her mother, Alberta Christine Williams King, at which she was fatally shot while playing during a church service in 1974, as the organ sits on display in the new Martin Luther King, Sr. Community Resources Complex in Atlanta. The new Atlanta community center intended to help low-income residents become more financially secure has been envisioned as a living legacy for the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., father of the civil rights icon. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was probably his best-known, and he gave it to cap off the 1963 March on Washington. But as his lawyer,
Clarence Jones, told WTOP in 2013, he wasn’t supposed to be the last speaker. He was originally set to speak in the middle of the program, and there was a long and lively discussion about where to put him. “I said you run the risk … that after he speaks a lot of the people at the march will get up and leave,” Jones said.
In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. King won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, recognized for his leadership in the American civil rights movement and for advocating nonviolence. This year’s winner is set to be announced on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/File)
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