Martin Luther King Jr Facts For Kids To Know

Written by MomJunction • 

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” These words of Martin Luther King Jr. are relevant even after several decades. The American leader is one of the most revered world leaders, who fought for civil rights. His ideas and ideologies are evergreen and have the depth to guide generations to come.

The life story of this Noble Prize winner is worth to be shared with the next generations, for them to value their life and others’ as well. MomJunction has compiled some interesting facts and information about Martin Luther King Jr. Read on

Martin Luther King Jr Facts For Kids:

1. King’s Dream:

Martin Luther King Jr. was the social activist and Baptist minister who played a pivotal role in the American civil rights movement until his assassination in 1968. He wanted all the citizens of the US to be judged by their personal qualities, but not by the color of their skin. He began his struggle to persuade the US Government to declare racial discrimination unlawful, in the year 1955.

In 1963, over 250,000 demonstrators marched to the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech ‘I have a dream’. The following year, the government passed a law prohibiting racial discrimination.

In the process, however, Martin Luther King Jr. created some powerful opponents. FBI’s then director John Edgar Hoover placed King Jr. under surveillance treating him as a communist. When King Jr. opposed the administration policy in Vietnam, he fell into the bad books of the government. The leader’s assassination is still a mystery as it is not known if the perpetrator acted on his own or as part of a conspiracy.

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2. Original Name:

The ‘drum major for justice’ was born Michael King Jr., not Martin Jr. and he was lovingly called Mike. His father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, was named Michael King. Being the eldest son, King Jr. was named after him. But after a trip to Germany, Michael King Sr. changed his name to pay homage to German theologian Martin Luther. King Jr. was just a baby at that name. So, the senior changed his son’s name, too.

According to some biographers, Martin Luther King Jr. changed his name during the teenage years. Since it could never be filed legally, Martin Luther King Jr. underwent a spiritual name change. His wife called him Martin, but his elder sister and the rest of the family continued to call him Mike.

3. King Jr.’s Early Years And Education:

King Jr. was born on 15th January 1929 in Atlanta. He did his primary education at Booker T. Washington High School and started college at the Morehouse College, at the age of 15. After obtaining sociology degree from Morehouse, Martin Luther King Jr. received a divinity degree from the Crozer Seminary. He also received a degree in theology from the Boston University.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher, which further inspired him to pursue ministry. In the year 1953, he married Coretta Scott and had four children from her.

4. Martin Luther King Jr. Was A Child Prodigy:

Martin Luther King Jr. was such a brilliant student that he did not even attend IX and XII grades before enrolling at the Morehouse College, which was attended by his father and grandfather. Although Martin Luther King Jr. belonged to a family of Baptist clerics, Martin Luther King Jr. did not want to follow his family profession until President Benjamin E. Mays, a renowned theologian, induced him into it. King was decreed before graduating the college with a degree in sociology.

5. Martin Luther King Jr. Got a C In Public Speaking At School:

Martin Luther King Jr.’s father was a preacher in Atlanta and believed that his son was the best speaker he had even seen. But that was before Martin Luther King Jr. went to seminary school in Pennsylvania. In the first year, the professors gave him a C in public speaking. But in the final year, Martin Luther King Jr. achieved A.

6. Martin Luther King Jr. Was A Doctor In Systematic Theology:

After receiving a degree from Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary, Martin Luther King Jr. attended the Boston University for graduation and completed his Ph.D. in 1955. Do you know what his dissertation title was? ‘A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.’

7. An Attempt To Commit Suicide:

When he was 12, Martin Luther King Jr. tried to commit suicide after hearing the news of his grandmother’s demise. That day he went to watch a parade against his parents’ wishes, and his grandmother suffered a fatal heart attack after falling from the banister. Martin Luther King Jr. was devastated as he blamed himself for her death. She had the fatal fall looking after King Jr.’s six-year-old brother, a job that he was supposed to do.

Young Martin did not know then that unconsciousness was in no way related to heart attack. Associating himself with the tragic turn of events, Martin Luther King Jr. went upstairs and jumped from the second story of his house. His father later said that the boy was unable to sleep for several days.

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8. The Beginning Of Civil Rights Movement:

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the first major civil rights protest by Martin Luther King Jr. It started when Rosa Parks, another civil rights activist, was detained in jail for refusing to give her bus seat to a white American. Martin Luther King Jr. was unknown when he was named as the representative for Montgomery Bus Boycott. He had just arrived in Alabama, and the leaders of the boycott asked him to be the public voice of the movement. There were concerns that the rivalries within the movement could pose problems. Hence, Dr. King was picked as a bipartisan leader.

The Montgomery boycott lasted a year with some violence in between. Martin Jr.’s house was bombed, and he was arrested. But at the end, the boycott was successful, and the Montgomery bus segregation ended.

9. Southern Christian Leadership Conference:

To continue with the force gained from the Montgomery victory, and to spread the movement to the south, Martin Luther King Jr., and other leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As the president of SCLC, Martin Luther King Jr. spent the following few years of his life consolidating the organization’s position as a social force and establishing himself as its leader. He toured the country appearing at rallies, giving speeches, writing a book on the Montgomery experience and meeting with the elected officials and candidates. He even traveled to Ghana to be a part of its independence celebration.

The next year, he went to India to meet prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and other associates of Mahatma Gandhi. Due to his hectic schedule as the leader of the SCLC, he had to resign from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. He later accepted his father’s offer to become the co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. His role as the co-pastor gave him more time and flexibility to devote time to SCLC activities. From 1960 to 1962, he devoted his entire time and action to SCLC.

10. Martin Luther King Jr. Wanted To Marry A Cafeteria Worker:

Martin Luther King Jr. fell in love with a German cafeteria employee named Betty in Pennsylvania during the late 1940s. But the fellow seminarians talked him out of it because his father would frown upon interracial romance when he was grooming him as a successor in the pulpit. Martin Luther King Sr would have viewed a cafeteria worker below his son’s stature.

In his book, David Garrow wrote that Martin Luther King Jr. never really recovered from the heartbreak caused by this socially unacceptable affair. Martin Luther King Sr was not happy with Jr.’s choice of conservatory student Coretta Scott, either, as he chose someone else as his son’s bride.

11. He Discovered An Open Society In Simsbury Tobacco Fields:

During his teenage years, Martin Luther King Jr. spent his summer harvesting tobacco in Simsbury. His experience of working in the Yankee territory shaped his future. Martin Luther King Jr. said that he felt no discrimination there. He did not face any prejudice from anyone. He could go wherever he wanted, and sit wherever he liked. He was equally moved by the fact that there were racially integrated church services in Simsbury. The fact that he could not enjoy such freedom in deep south inspired him to become a man of the cloth. He felt an inescapable urge to amend the society, a sense of responsibility that he could not escape.

12. Not The First Black Leader To Adopt Gandhian Principles:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the first leader to be influenced by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi. He was preceded by the founder of Congress of Racial Equality, James Farmer. Farmer had learned about Gandhi from Howard University’s educator and theologian Dr. Howard Thurman. When Thurman had met Gandhi, he asked him how his ideas could be implemented in the US. Gandhi responded that nonviolent resistance as a strategy for social change had a global footing. He suggested to Thurman that black Americans could also employ the tactics.

Dr. Mordecai Johnson, Howard University’s first black president, was deeply impressed by Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha. At Crozer Seminary, King Jr. attended Johnson’s lecture on Gandhi. The address had a lasting influence on Martin Luther King Jr., but the threat of violence inherent in the struggle for racial equality was such that it took years for him to embrace Gandhian principles. He traveled to India to study Gandhi’s philosophies and principles of nonviolence. “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.” was Martin Luther King Jr. statement upon landing in India in March 1959.

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13. ‘I Have A Dream’ Was Not Martin Luther King Jr.’s First Speech:

More than five years before his historic speech in Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke the Great Emancipator on 17th May 1957. He was one of the civil rights leaders at the event and spoke in front of a crowd of more than 5,000 people. His first speech was on the right to vote. His speech placed him at the front of the civil rights leadership.

14. Martin Luther King Jr. Was Imprisoned 30 Times:

As per the records, Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed 30 times. Most of the time, he was charged with causing unrest in the nation. There were non-political charges as well, as an instance when he was imprisoned in Montgomery for over speeding.

15. The Last Speech Predicted His Death:

Martin Luther King Jr. had arrived in Memphis to lend his support to the strike by black garbage workers in the city. In his speech on the night before his murder, he stated to the audience at the Mason Temple Church: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

16. The Leader’s Assassination:

Martin Luther King Jr. was slain on 4th April 1968 in Memphis. He was standing in the gallery of the hotel when he was shot by James Earl Ray.

17. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Family’s Doubt Over The Assassination:

Ray, a serial killer, pleaded guilty to the King’s murder, but later retracted his statement. Dexter, Martin Luther King Jr.’s son, met Ray publicly in the year 1997 and demanded the reopening of the case. His widow believed the state, local mafia, and the government agencies were all involved in her husband’s assassination. She also appreciated the outcome of the civil trial which declared that the killing was a result of a conspiracy. But research and investigation conducted by the US Department of Justice reported no conspiracy.

18. Not The Only One To Die:

Martin Luther King Jr. was not the only one to die at the Lorraine Motel attack. After his assassination, one of the hotel workers, named Lorraine Bailey, had a stroke upon seeing King shot. She could not recover from the heart attack. Lorraine was also the switchboard operator at the motel. When Reverend Samuel Kyles tried to call an ambulance using the motel room phone, nobody was at the switchboard to make the call. This was the reason for the delay in getting the ambulance.

19. Martin Luther King Jr. Escaped An Attempt Of Assassination A Decade Before His Death:

On 20th September 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was in Harlem department store signing copies of his book ‘Stride Toward Freedom’, when he was approached by a woman named Izola Ware Curry. The woman confirmed if he was Martin Luther King Jr. When he said yes, the lady replied, “I’ve been looking for you for five years” and plunged a letter opener into his chest. Martin Luther King Jr. had to undergo hours-long surgery. Surgeons later informed him that just one sneeze could have punctured his aorta. From his hospital bed, Martin Luther King Jr. issued a statement affirming that he felt no ill towards his attacker.

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20. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Mother Was Also Murdered:

Martin Luther King Jr. mother, Alberta Williams Kings, was killed on 6th June 1974 when she was playing mouth organ at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. One Marcus Wayne Chennault Jr. rose from the front bench and fired shots at her. A bullet hit Alberta, and she died on the steps where her son had lectured on nonviolence and nonaggression. The gunman later revealed that he was instructed to kill Martin Luther King Jr.’s father, but had to kill his mother as she was nearer. Chennault Jr. received death penalty, but it was changed to life imprisonment after a few pleadings.

21. The Youngest Receiver Of Nobel Prize In His Time:

Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest receiver of Nobel Peace Prize when he was awarded in the year 1964. Currently, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest winner. She was just 17 when she won the prize in the year 2014. His acceptance speech included his famous statement- “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” He donated his $54,000 prize money to the ongoing civil rights movement.

22. A Grammy Winner:

Martin Luther was also a Grammy winner. He won the 1971 Grammy’s for the Best Spoken Word Album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam”. The speech from which this album was made was delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City on 30th April 1967.

23. Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

President Ronald Reagan signed a bill on 2nd November 1983 to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the memory of all the great things he did for civil rights. The day is celebrated in January because his birthday falls in the same month. It was observed for the first time on 20th January 1986. But not all the 50 US states recognized it as a holiday until the year 2000. Utah was the last state to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday.

24. Martin Luther King Jr., The Writer:

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote three major books during his lifetime. His first book ‘Stride Toward Freedom’ focused on his work in Montgomery. The second book ‘Why We Can’t Wait’ came out in 1964, followed by ‘Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?’ in the year 1968. In between, he also wrote books on sermons and meditation.

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A Few More Interesting Facts:

  • There are over 900 streets in the US named after Martin Luther King Jr. Around 75% of these streets are located in the southern states, with Georgia leading with 122.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. led a Freedom Walk in Detroit, Michigan on 23rd June 1963. Over 125,000 people took part in the walk.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. also sang with his church choir at the Atlanta premiere of the film Gone with the Wind.
  • He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. is also referred to by his initials MLK.
  • MLK was the first African-American to be named the Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. He was given the prestigious title in the year 1963.
  • He is the only non-president to have a memorial installed on the National Mall in Washington DC. Located just near the Lincoln Memorial, the memorial opened to the public on 22 August 2011.
  • The “I Have a Dream” porting of his historic speech was unscripted. In preparing the speech, Martin Luther King Jr. had never actually written the “I Have a Dream” cadence, and it came about on a whim.
  • In the year 1954, Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife moved to Montgomery where he became the minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the first all-Black Greek letter organizations. He even pledged into the Sigma Chapter at the Boston University in 1952.
  • MLK underwent extreme stress. His autopsy revealed that though he was just 39 years at the time of his death, his heart looked more like a 60-year-old, primarily due to stress.

We hope you and your children enjoyed learning about Martin Luther King Jr. If you have any facts about Martin Luther King Jr for kids to share, leave us a comment below.

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