Today we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his courageous civil rights work. In honor of this American hero, we’re sharing a few interesting facts you may not know about him:
- Martin Luther King Jr. was named was Michael at birth.
He was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.
- King got his doctorate from Boston University.
King skipped both 9th and 12th grade because he was such a gifted student (his mother was a school teacher who taught him to read before he even entered school), and King entered Morehouse College at age 15. He was ordained before graduating with a degree in sociology. After earning a divinity degree from Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary, King attended graduate school at Boston University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in theology in 1955. And it was while he attended school in Boston that King met his future wife, Coretta Scott, who was attending the New England Conservatory of Music nearby.
- He went to jail 29 times.
King was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.
- King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1964 at the age of 35, Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent work in the civil rights movement. After his death, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. From his early studies at school, he was influenced by the peaceful teachings of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi.
- George Washington is the only other American to have had his birthday observed as a national holiday.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.. The holiday, first commemorated in 1986, is celebrated on the third Monday in January, close to the civil rights leader’s January 15 birthday.