Dr. Martin Luther King is one of those individuals whose name is almost universally recognizable. We were all taught in school from a young age the vital importance of Dr. King’s role in leading the Civil Rights movement and ending institutionalized segregation. As he is such a prominent historical figure, practically everyone knows who Dr. King is—but just how much does the average person know about him? Here are five interesting little known facts about one of the greatest advocates of human rights the world has ever known:
1. His original name was not “Martin”
Dr. King was actually born Michael King Jr. after his father’s original name. In 1931, King Sr. traveled to Germany, during which time he experienced many things that influenced him deeply. Among these influences was the decision to change his name from Michael to Martin Luther, after the historic German theologan, Martin Luther. At this time King Jr. was two years old, but King Sr. nonetheless decided to change his son’s name as he did his own.
2. Dr. King received a C in public speaking
If you’ve ever gotten, shall we just say, less than perfect grades in one of your favorite subjects in school, fear not! History is riddled with examples of highly successful people in their fields who did poorly the corresponding subjects in school; most cite Einstein failing math, but not many know that Dr. King was seen as rather unimpressive in the eyes of his instructors as well. During his first year away at seminary school in Chester, Pennsylvania, one of Dr. King’s professors gave him a C in public speaking, despite his father claiming he was the best speaker he’d ever seen.
3. As one might imagine, Dr. King was intelligent—and skipped two grades
The professor who gave him a C in public speaking obviously didn’t know what he was doing, but thankfully he was recognized later in school for his exceptional intelligence. Dr. King was able to enter Moorehouse College at the tender young age of 15 after having skipped grades 9 and 11 in high school. By age 19, he received his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
4. Dr. King was a smoker
You won’t find any pictures of him actually smoking, however. Dr. King was extremely secretive with his habit; partially because of the social taboo (which, beleive it or not, existed even in the 60’s in certain fields, such as ministry), and partially because he did not want his kinds to take up the habit. In fact, according to Reverend Kyles, after Dr. King was shot at the Lorraine Motel on that fateful day of April 4th, 1968, Kyles removed the pack of cigarettes from Dr. King’s pocket and got rid of his cigarette butt, so as to preserve his image.
5. Dr. King was nearly assassinated a decade earlier
On September 20th, 1958, while on a book signing tour featuring his latest work, “Stride Toward Freedom”, Dr. King was approached by a woman named Izola Ware Curry. She asked him if he was Martin Luther King Jr., to which he of course replied, “Yes.” She responded by saying, “I’ve been looking for you for five years.” At which point she produced a letter opener from inside her coat and stabbed him directly in the chest. The blade of the letter opener nearly sliced open his aorta, and because of its dangerous proximity to the vital artery, its removal took doctors over three hours. The surgeon, Dr. Maynard, reportedly said, “Had you sneezed during all those hours of waiting, your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.” Thankfully, he did not sneeze.
So there you have it. Five little known facts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Of course everyone’s thankful for his life and existence on planet earth because we all get a day off from work or school (which is absolutely necessary, by the way) but Dr. King literally sacrificed blood, sweat and tears so that no one would be forced to drink out of separate fountains, or ride in a certain area of the bus, or go to a different school based on the color of their skin. For this, we all owe him a debt of gratitude.