On the third Monday of January each year, we celebrate a holiday dedicated to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He is the only other American besides George Washington to have his birthday commemorated as a national holiday.  In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor him.   Dr. King is inarguably one of the most influential figures in United States history.  And although revered for his commitment to Civil Rights and non-violent protests, including the well-known March on Washington in 1963, there are many other fascinating aspects about his short life that are not as well-known.   In honor of his birthday, FirstLantic shares six lesser-known facts about the iconic leader who died at only 39 years old.


  1. King entered college at the age of 15. He was an incredibly gifted student and skipped both grades nine and twelve before beginning college at Morehouse, following in his father and grandfather’s legacy.
  2. After earning degrees from both Morehouse and Crozer Theological Seminary, Dr. King received his doctorate in systematic theology at Boston University. He often referred to the city as his second home.
  3. King was the youngest person at the time (and remains the youngest man) to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He gave his full prize winnings (over $54,000) to the Civil Rights Movement’s furtherance.
  4. King was imprisoned almost 30 times, charged primarily with civil disobedience, although all his protests were peaceful. He also was imprisoned once in Alabama for the dubious charge of driving 30 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone.
  5. King’s mother was also murdered. His mother, Alberta Williams King, was playing the organ at a Sunday service at her Baptist Church when a man shot and killed her and a church deacon.  The man said that he had divine instructions by God to kill King’s father, but that King’s mother was closer, so he shot her instead.
  6. In addition to earning three degrees, Dr. King was also awarded twenty honorary doctorates from Howard University, Bard College, Yale, Wesleyan, and many other higher-education institutions across the US and the world.


In only 39 short years, Dr. King became a symbol of peace, love, and hope.  He gave 2,500 speeches traveling worldwide to deliver his infamous words where he was welcomed by countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, India, and Ghana.   So, perhaps in these turbulent times, we can all take to heart some of his most famous words, “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. I have a dream today.”


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