20 Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

Updated on March 31, 2017
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Since graduating university, Paul has worked as a librarian and bookseller. Born in the UK, he now works as a freelance writer in Florida.

An advocate of non-violent direct action, Martin Luther King Jr was one of the greatest civil rights campaigners ever.  He was also an exceptional orator and made many memorable speeches, including his "I have a dream" speech.
An advocate of non-violent direct action, Martin Luther King Jr was one of the greatest civil rights campaigners ever. He was also an exceptional orator and made many memorable speeches, including his "I have a dream" speech. | Source

Martin Luther King Jr. is widely seen as one of the greatest American leaders of all time.

His legacy continues right up to this day, long after his assassination in 1968.

A great orator, political campaigner, and leader, King's main achievement was advancing civil rights, using nonviolent methods in the style of the Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi.

I hope that you enjoy reading my top 20 facts about Martin Luther King Jr. and find them interesting!

1. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

2. King’s father was a Baptist minister and his mother was a schoolteacher.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

3. He is best known in the USA and internationally for his part in advancing civil rights, using nonviolent methods in the style of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Indian political campaigner Mahatma Gandhi pictured spinning yarn.  Gandhi's ideas of non-violent action were an enormous influence on King, who used them to great effect in the American Civil Rights Movement.
The Indian political campaigner Mahatma Gandhi pictured spinning yarn. Gandhi's ideas of non-violent action were an enormous influence on King, who used them to great effect in the American Civil Rights Movement. | Source

4. King was an educated man with bachelor degrees in sociology and divinity, and a Ph.D. in systematic theology.

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

— Martin Luther King Jr.

5. While studying for his Ph.D. at Boston University, MLK was mentored by the theologian and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman, who was a big influence on him.

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.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

6. He met and married Coretta Scott, a music student and aspiring singer, in 1953. The couple had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King, III, Dexter Scott, and Bernice.

Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott began after Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white man.  The boycott was planned by E.D. Nixon, but led by King.
Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began after Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white man. The boycott was planned by E.D. Nixon, but led by King. | Source

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

— Martin Luther King Jr.

7. In 1955 Martin Luther King Jr. led a boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott went on for 381 days, but eventually led to racial segregation on public buses in Alabama being lifted.

The National City Lines bus, No. 2857.  Rosa Parks was riding on this bus before her arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. The bus is now a public exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.
The National City Lines bus, No. 2857. Rosa Parks was riding on this bus before her arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. The bus is now a public exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum. | Source

8. In May, 1957, King gave his famous "Give Us The Ballot" speech during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington.

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.

— Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK making his famous "I have a dream" speech.  The speech took place in 1963 was delivered to a quarter of a million people in Washington DC.  It is considered by many to be one of the finest and most inspirational pieces of public oration ever.
MLK making his famous "I have a dream" speech. The speech took place in 1963 was delivered to a quarter of a million people in Washington DC. It is considered by many to be one of the finest and most inspirational pieces of public oration ever. | Source

9. King’s most famous speech is known as "I Have a Dream". He gave it in 1963, stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to a crowd of over a quarter of a million people.

10. Although King was a great man, he certainly was not a saint. Numerous accusations of extramarital affairs and womanizing were made against him and he admitted in private that he had weaknesses in this area of his life. Also, during the 1980s, an investigation discovered that parts of King’s Ph.D. dissertation had been plagiarized.

11. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his role in opposing racial segregation and discrimination through nonviolent protest and other means.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

12. On March 7, 1965, King was involved with organizing a march from Selma to Montgomery in protest against a protester being killed by an Alabama state trooper the previous month. The march was blocked by state troopers and police officers and brutally beaten. The event, which came to be known as “Bloody Sunday”, was broadcast across the USA and gained the civil rights movement considerable sympathy.

13. His last great speech is known as the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address and was delivered on April 3, 1968, the day before he died.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

14. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, shot dead by James Earl Ray.

President Lyndon B Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act 1964 with Martin Luther King looking on.  The Act was a tremendous achievement for King, but did not mean that he stopped his work.
President Lyndon B Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act 1964 with Martin Luther King looking on. The Act was a tremendous achievement for King, but did not mean that he stopped his work. | Source

15. Some people have alleged that King’s murder was part of a larger conspiracy and that Ray was just a scapegoat.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

16. King’s favorite song was "Take My hand, Precious Lord." The song was sung at his funeral by his friend, Mahalia Jackson.

17. Towards the end of his life, King had switched his focus from civil rights to campaigns to end poverty and stop the Vietnam War. Many of his liberal allies felt alienated by his stance on the war.

One of the greatest casualties of the war in Vietnam is the Great Society... shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

18. The Lorraine Motel, where he was killed, is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.

The site at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  The wreath shows the approximate spot.  The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN.
The site at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. The wreath shows the approximate spot. The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. | Source

19. After his death, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King's tomb, Atlanta, Georgia.  Hundreds of roads around the USA have been named after King in homage to his life and work.
Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King's tomb, Atlanta, Georgia. Hundreds of roads around the USA have been named after King in homage to his life and work. | Source

20. In 1983 a new U.S. federal holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. was signed into law by Ronald Reagan. The holiday was first observed three years later in 1986. At first some states were reluctant to adopt the new holiday, but since the year 2000, all 50 states have celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Questions & Answers

  • Did James Earl Ray escape or not?

    Straight after the assassination, Ray drove to Atlanta. He then picked up his belongings and went to Canada. After hiding out for over a month, he acquired a false Canadian passport and flew to England. After a brief stay in Portugal, he went back to London and was eventually arrested at London Heathrow Airport trying to fly to Belgium. The date was June 8, 1968, two months after King's death.

  • Who killed Martin Luther King Jr.?

    King was shot dead by James Earl Ray with a single shot fired from a Remington rifle. King was standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Ray fired from the rooming house opposite. Ray had a history of criminal behavior, including armed robbery. He had a strong prejudice against black people and intended to flee to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where there was white minority rule at the time, following the killing of King.

  • How did Martin Luther King Jr. Day become a holiday?

    The idea of a federal holiday to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King was first proposed in 1979. However, the federal holiday wasn't signed into law until 1983, following a successful public campaign. The holiday came into effect three years later, although not all states chose to observe it until 1991.

© 2014 Paul Goodman

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    • profile image

      jiggie 

      8 weeks ago

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      2 months ago

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      jr 

      2 months ago

      these are really useful facts

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      Jeff Bob 

      2 months ago

      Really useful but should put more words instead of copying speeches and quotes from the internet. Not too reliable.

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      2 months ago

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      2 months ago

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      destiny 

      3 months ago

      what did this man spend his life doing

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      4 months ago

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      4 months ago

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      4 months ago

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      4 months ago

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      4 months ago

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      5 months ago

      this helped me with my homework but its kind of anoying when its way to long so i have to start over

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      Uvaldo granado 

      5 months ago

      So good and inspirational good bye

    • profile image

      tanisha 

      5 months ago

      good but boring

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      Ashley Trisdale 

      5 months ago

      some people hate him

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      5 months ago

      he had affairs!!!

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      Thankful 

      5 months ago

      Thank you Martin Luther King Jr.

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      5 months ago

      He did great thing for us

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      6 months ago

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      6 months ago

      I love this i'm using it for school. He is a nice man!

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      6 months ago

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      10 months ago

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      12 months ago

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