Today, Chill, the nation, and the world gives homage to one of the most influential and impactful leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement and modern history, social activist, humanitarian, and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King, a Baptist minister inspired by other advocates of nonviolence, inspired and led oppressed, socially disadvantaged African-Americans to fight for equality through peaceful protest.
King helped to end legal segregation, a key driving force behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Dr. King’s life was cut short, having been assassinated in April 1968.
In remembrance of the iconic leader himself, here are 10 facts we should all know.
1. King entered college at the age of 15.
King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.
2. King received his doctorate in systematic theology.
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 1955. The title of his dissertation was “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”
3. King was imprisoned nearly 30 times.
According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times, arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on falsified 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.
4. King’s mother was also slain by a bullet.
On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault, Jr. drew two pistols as he sat on the front row and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed Mrs. King. The deranged gunman received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.
5. King is the only non-president to have a national holiday in his name.
Despite King's undeniable worthiness, MLK Day was met with resistance. In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan largely ignored pleas to pass legislation making the holiday official out of the concern it would open the door for other minority groups to demand their own holidays; Senator Jesse Helms complained that the missed workday could cost the country $12 billion in lost productivity.
Good judgment prevailed, and the bill was signed into law on November 2, 1983. The holiday officially began being recognized in January 1986. The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in January, close to the civil rights leader’s January 15 birthday.
6. He was the youngest person at the time to receive a Nobel Peace Prize
When Martin Luther King Jr. received a Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence, he was just 35 years old – the youngest man at the time to do so. His prize included a check for $54,123, which he donated to various organizations – the American Foundation on Non-Violence, Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), NAACP, National Council of Negro Women, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) – to aid in the progress of the civil rights movement.
7. From 1957 to 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over 2,500 times
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to aid the growing civil rights movement, elected King as its president in 1957; he led the group from its inception until he was murdered in 1968. Founded on Christian values, SCLC sought to advance the cause of the civil rights movement, but in a peaceful way; inspired by the teachings of Gandhi, King operated on Christian principles without violence. He traveled across the nation, visiting cities for speeches and protests. During these 11 years, King also wrote five books and published several articles.
8. There are approximately 900 streets named after MLK in the U.S.
According to Derek Alderman, head of the geography department at the University of Tennessee, there are approximately 900 streets named after King in the U.S. After his assassination in 1968, cities across the nation began naming and renaming streets in his honor; even countries such as Italy and Israel followed suit. The number of streets increases every year, with 70 percent in Southern states: Alabama, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
9. The FBI tried to coerce him into suicide.
King's increasing prominence and influence agitated many of his enemies, but few were more powerful than FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. For years, Hoover kept King under surveillance, worried that this subversive could sway public opinion against the bureau and fretting that King might have Communist ties. While there's still debate about how independently Hoover's deputy William Sullivan was acting, an anonymous letter was sent to King in 1964 accusing him of extramarital affairs and threatening to disclose his indiscretions. The only solution, the letter suggested, would be for King to exit the civil rights movement, either willingly or by taking his own life. King ignored the threat and continued his work.
10. We could see him on the $5 bill — at some point.
In 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced plans to overhaul major denominations of currency beginning in 2020. Along with Harriet Tubman adorning the $20 bill, plan called for the reverse side of the $5 Lincoln-stamped bill to commemorate "historic events that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial" including King's famous 1963 speech. In April 2018, though, the Trump administration announced that those plans were on hold and the bills would be delayed by at least six years.