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Martin Luther King Jr: Life and Legacy

Updated on April 11, 2019
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree in History at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. | Source

Quick Facts

Name: Michael "Martin" Luther King Jr.

Birth Date: 15 January 1929

Death: 4 April 1968 (39 Years of Age)

Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia

Occupation/Known For: Minister and Civil Rights Activist

Parents: Michael “Martin” Luther King Sr. and Alberta King

Children: Bernice; Dexter; Martin III; Yolanda

Education: King Jr. received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1948; He later received his Baccalaureate of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary in 1951, as well as his PhD from Boston University in 1955.


King's Life

Fact #1:

Throughout King’s lifetime, he was arrested and placed in prison 29 times. Often times, King found himself imprisoned for trumped-up charges due to his prominence as a civil rights leader in the Southern United States. According to the King Center, King was once arrested for driving 30 m.p.h. in a 25 m.p.h. area around Montgomery, Alabama (1956). King was also arrested for so-called acts of civil disobedience, and drew attention from local, state, and federal police (including the F.B.I.).

Fact #2:

Martin Luther King’s real name wasn’t “Martin.” His original name was Michael, but was renamed by his father after a trip to Germany. King Sr., who was “inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther,” decided in 1934 to change both King Jr. and his own name to “Martin” (

Fact #3:

Martin Luther King Jr. drew much of his inspiration from the peaceful protests of Indian activists (under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi. King believed strongly in non-violence, and pushed many in the Civil Rights Movement to meet violence with peaceful tactics.

"I have decided to stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

— Martin Luther King Jr.

King's Life Continued...

Fact #4:

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered at Washington D.C. in 1963. It is largely considered one of the most famous and popular speeches of all time, garnering a quarter of a million listeners/viewers at the event. In the speech, King discussed civil rights, as well as his dream for an equal and harmonious society where blacks and whites resided in perpetual peace with one another. Ironically, King received a C and C+ during two separate semesters of public speaking classes.

Fact #5:

In 1964, King’s actions helped to inspire the “Civil Rights Act” which outlawed racial segregation and discriminatory actions. Later that year (October), King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. According to reports, King learned of the award over the phone while recovering in bed from exhaustion symptoms.

Fact #6:

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Tennessee at his hotel by James Earl Ray. Controversy continues to shroud King’s untimely death, as Ray proclaimed his innocence in the affair until his death in 1998. Conspiracy theorists believe that Ray was set up by the government, mafia, or foreign contacts in the murder, despite government claims of the contrary.

Fact #7:

MLK Day became an official holiday on 2 November, 1983, and was recognized across the nation in January of 1986. It is celebrated on the third Monday of every January in order to commemorate the efforts and legacy of King’s efforts for equality and Civil Rights. According to the U.S. Treasury, by 2020, Martin Luther King Jr. will also be featured on the back of the $5 bill.

"A man who won't die for something is not fit to live."

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Popular Works by Martin Luther King Jr.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)

The Measure of a Man (1959)

Strength to Love (1963)

Why We Can't Wait (1964)

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)

The Trumpet of Conscience (1968)

Popular Quotes by Martin Luther King Jr.

Quote #1: "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Quote #2: Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

Quote #3: "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

Quote #4: "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

Quote #5: "I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

Quote #6: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of a true education."

Quote #7: "I have a dream that my four little 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."

Quote #8: "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

Fun Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

Fun Fact #1: King was an avid smoker; however, he made great strides to hide this fact due to the stigma placed on smoking by churches, and because he did not want his own children to take up the habit as well.

Fun Fact #2: King was nearly assassinated a decade before his death. Izola Ware Curry stabbed King in the chest with a letter opener on 20 September 1958 while King was on a book tour. The knife barely missed his aorta, sparing King of death.

Fun Fact #3: King graduated high school at the age of fifteen, after skipping both the ninth and eleventh grades. He received his Bachelor's degree by the age of nineteen.

Fun Fact #4: King almost chose another career besides ministering. After graduating from college, King professed sincere doubts in the Bible, and hoped to instead become a doctor or lawyer. Shortly afterwards, however, King came to accept the Bible as truth and entered seminary school at Crozer Theological Seminary; graduating with his PhD at the age of twenty five.

Fun Fact #5: King and his wife spent their honeymoon in a funeral parlor that belonged to a close friend.

Fun Fact #6: King is the youngest male to ever win the "Nobel Peace Prize" (at the age of 35. The youngest "Nobel" Prize winner, to date, is Malala Yousafzai who won in 2014 (at the age of seventeen).

Fun Fact #7: King's house was bombed at one point during the "Montgomery Bus Boycott."

Fun Fact #8: After receiving the "Nobel Peace Prize," King donated the $54,000 funds that he received for the award to the Civil Rights Movement.


Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of the most influential Civil Rights figures of all time. His legacy and contribution to issues concerning racism and equality continue to resonate in the present day. His efforts also helped to inspire social movements in other parts of the world; most notably, South Africa.

Although racism continues to be an issue for American society, the United States would be a far different place today if not for the efforts of activists such as King. His legacy continues to live on in the hearts and minds of Americans.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Frady, Marshall. Martin Luther King Jr: A Life. New York: Viking, 2002.

Garrow, David. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Perennial Classics, 2004.

Harding, Vincent. Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2008.

Oates, Stephen B. Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Harper & Row, 1994.

Works Cited:

"Martin Luther King Jr." January 18, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

"Martin Luther King Jr." Wikipedia. July 09, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

© 2018 Larry Slawson


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    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      11 months ago from North Carolina

      @Dora Weithers Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed :) Really great man, indeed.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      11 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for the details on the life of this great hero. Interesting facts about his name change.


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