I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. — Martin Luther King, Jr. / "I Have A Dream" speech, August 28, 1963
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we wanted to celebrate the man who deeply impacted the history of the United States, inspired movements for generations to come, and left the world with words we will never forget. Since the mid 1950s, King, a Baptist Minister, worked tirelessly for the civil rights movement until his assassination in 1968. King educated and inspired others to believe in and fight for a nation where each individual is treated equally.
Below are 10 facts about the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. that you and your students may not know. We hope you will be inspired by his life and memory.
1. Since 1968 legislators had been trying to make King’s birthday, the 15th of January, a national holiday. It wasn’t until 1983 that President Ronald Reagan signed into federal law that Martin Luther King Jr. Day would be a federal holiday. All 50 states have officially observed the holiday since 2000. King is the only American citizen, who was not a president, to be honored with a national holiday. (Source)
2. King skipped two grades in high school and began attending college in 1944 at Morehouse College when he was only 15-years-old. He received a degree in sociology and then went on to earn a divinity degree from Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary. He then completed his Ph.D. in 1955 at Boston University at the age 0f 25. (Source)
3. While in graduate school King met the woman he would later marry, Coretta Scott. She was studying at the New England Conservatory school at the time, aspiring to become a singer and musician. They married in 1953 and had four children Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice. (Source)
4. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work in human rights. At the time he was the youngest person, 35, to have ever received the award. He gave the the award money $54,000 (now the award is about $400,000) to organizations and efforts in the civil rights movement. (Source)
5. In 1963 he was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year. King was the first African-American to receive the honor. The only other African-American Man of the Year since then has been President Barack Obama. King told the press at the time that he was very pleased to be able to share his story and dreams with such a prestigious and established magazine. (Source)
6. When he was 15-years-old, King was a part of a group of students from Morehouse College who traveled over the summer to Simsbury, Connecticut and worked on a tobacco farm. Being able to spend time in the non-segregated communities of the North opened King’s eyes to the injustices of segregation and inspired him to join in the human rights movement. “After that summer in Connecticut, it was a bitter feeling going back to segregation,” he later wrote. (Source)
7. King was quite the writer. One of his biographers, Clayborne Carson, says that King produced or assisted in producing more than 300,000 documents (sermons, letters, pamphlets, speeches) about his life and work in human justice. King wrote three major books and two others of sermons and religious meditations. Dozens of biographies have been written about King and the FBI has kept surveillance records about King sealed in the National Archives which they won’t release to the public until 2027. (Source)
8. Apart from civil rights, King also supported efforts towards economic equality and eloquently spoke out against the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1967 he delivered a speech in New York City opposing the Vietnam War. The speech was later turned into a spoken word album which King posthumously won a Grammy award for in 1971. (Source)
9. King was arrested nearly 30 times mostly on charges for civil disobedience. He had many enemies in the government and the FBI, and often times he was jailed on trumped up charges - once for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone. Some of King’s most famous writings were ones he worked on while in jail, including his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” (Source)
10. Apart from leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which fought for an end to segregation, King also established and led the Poor People’s Campaign in 1967 which organized peaceful rallies demanding jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage and education for the poor. (Source)
If I cannot do great things, I will do small things in a great way. - Martin Luther King Jr.