21 Martin Luther King Jr Facts That All Children And Adults Should Know!

Akinwalere Olaleye
Feb 29, 2024 By Akinwalere Olaleye
Originally Published on Nov 23, 2021
Martin Luther King Jr facts include that he was one of the most well-known and important civil rights leaders.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 14.0 Min

Martin Luther King Jr. was a smart and intelligent student during his high school and university time.

King got his doctorate from Boston University and had four children with his wife Coretta Scott, including Yolanda Denise King, Dexter Scott King, Martin III, and Bernice Albertine King. King had a big family to look after, yet decided to risk himself and his family and joined the movement without hesitation.

As per reports by King Center, Martin was arrested and jailed 29 times. At the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C, on August 28, 1963, he gave his famous 'I have a dream' speech that inspired many across the state to rise against injustice and discrimination. Even after his death, King remained immortal in the hearts of people, and streets across many cities were named after him starting with Alabama, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

If you want to know and read more such interesting facts, then do check out our other facts articles on the American civil war facts and Rosa Parks facts and get some enriching information and knowledge about them.

The Reason Why People Rioted After The Assassination Of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr is known to be one of the most important and prominent American civil rights leaders. But, unfortunately, he was shot dead one evening on April 4, 1968, leading to widespread anger and agony among the masses, then leading to riots in many parts of the states.

Martin, formerly Michael Luther King Jr, was one of the most celebrated civil rights activists who actively participated in civil rights marches and civil disobedience movements in his time. Martin Luther is said to be the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. Michael King Jr or Luther King Jr believed in nonviolence and peaceful protest to convey his message to the masses. In April 1968, he went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support the local workers who were protesting for a pay hike. On April 3, Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous speech, 'I have been to the mountain top'. On the evening of April 4, 1968, a day before joining the protests, he was shot through the jaw by James Earl Ray when he was lodging at the Lorainne Motel. After an hour the sad news came and he was pronounced dead at the age of 39.

King's assassination led to widespread anger and agony among his supporters and the masses as they doubted the involvement of state-sponsored agencies like the FBI in the assassination. In nearly 10 days of his funeral, almost 200 cities experienced unrest and riots. It was the greatest unrest wave in history after the American civil war; more than 3,500 were injured, 27,000 were arrested, and 43 were killed in the riots. Almost 54,000 national guardsmen were employed to control the unrest and widespread violence.

When was Martin Luther King born?

Martin Luther Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on 15 January 1929. He was the second of three children born to Michael King Sr aka Martin Luther King Sr and Alberta Williams King and was initially named Michael King Jr. Later, at the age of 28, his father changed both their names to Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr., respectively.

Martin's grandfather began the family's lengthy-term as pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church; his father served from 1914 - 1931, and Martin Luther Jr. served as co-pastor from 1960 till his death. Adam Daniel Williams, Luther King's maternal grandfather and a clergyman from rural Georgia, traveled to Atlanta in 1893 and went on to become pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church the following year. Williams was of mixed African and Irish ancestry. Alberta, King's mother, was born to Williams and Jennie Celeste Parks. Christine King Farris was King's older sister and Alfred Daniel 'A.D.' King was Luther King's younger brother. Martin Luther King Jr was raised in a Baptist home, but he still grew skeptical of many of Christianity's claims. Martin Luther King Jr gradually started displaying his sharp public speaking and leadership skills during his high school days.

He grew up observing his father be a strong critique of racial discrimination and segregation in states and was deeply inspired by King Sr. In 1944, when King Jr was 15 years old, he cleared the entrance examination and joined the Morehouse college where King's father and grandfather had studied and was an all-black male college. Morehouse College was a historically black college at that time. He completed his college at Morehouse College and later went to the ministry from there. Martin Luther attained his divinity degree from Crozer Seminary and got his doctor's degree from Boston University.

Civil Rights Movement

The American civil rights movement lasted from 1954 - 1968 in the United States and was preceded by African Americans against black racism and segregation based on the color of their skin. The movement mainly included non-violent protests and civil disobedience movements. King was one of the most important Social Rights leaders in some major civil rights marches and demonstrations.

The civil rights movement resulted in major legal and federal changes, and the efforts of civil rights leaders finally led to the drafting of the civil rights act of 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965. The Civil Rights Movement led by African Americans was joined by the civil rights activist and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr in some major marches and protests. Martin Luther King Jr was well known across the states as a civil rights leader and was influential during the '50s and '60s. His strong belief in nonviolence shaped the tone of the civil rights march and movements.

He strongly believed that boycotts, marches, and protests were effective means to stand against the injustice done to African Americans based only on their color. He believed that only through such protests could one attain legislative changes for racial equality in the United States. In 1955, Luther King provided leadership to the Montgomery bus boycott movement. He was also very vocal in establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, a civil rights organization that actively supports the nonviolence philosophy. He wrote a letter from Birmingham jail to highlight the necessity of civil rights change. In the year 1963, he delivered his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech at the march in Washington D.C. As a result of his dream speech, the pressure on President Johnson started to accelerate, and he was pushed to pass the civil rights bill through Congress and recognize racial equality at a national level.

Martin Luther King Jr is famously renowned for his speeches and nonviolent protests and marches against racism and segregation.

Fight For Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Every year on 20 January, Martin Luther King Jr day is celebrated widely throughout the United States in honor of Martin Luther King's legacy and his contribution as a civil rights leader in shaping equal civil rights for every citizen. But the fight for Martin Luther Jr day was not that easy.

A renowned civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr was one of the youngest individuals to get a Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the American civil rights movement. He is also the only individual on whom a federal holiday has been declared in the United States, and it is the only national holiday commemorating an African American. The fight for Martin Luther day started just four days after his Assassination when Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Edward Brooke (R-MA) presented proposals in Congress to declare a federal holiday in his commemoration. Despite going unnoticed at first, Rep. Conyers continued in his efforts and gained backing from the Congressional Black Caucus to establish a federal holiday to commemorate King.

Three years following Rep. Conyers' first attempt to establish a King holiday, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (which King led from its establishment to his demise) presented Congress with a petition comprising around three million signatures in favor of a federal King holiday. Despite the disappointments at the federal level, many states and localities honored King's birth and death with their ceremonies around the anniversaries of his birth and death. Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, founded the King Memorial Center in Atlanta, and in January 1969, nearly a year after his murder, she staged the inaugural MLK Day commemoration. St. Louis was among the first cities in the country to create a King holiday the following year. In the '70s, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Connecticut became the first states to declare statewide King holidays.

Many American senators claimed that the vacation was financially unviable, claiming that implementing such a paid holiday for government employees would be too expensive. Coretta Scott King still did not give up fighting for her late husband's legacy, and the narration began to change with the onset of the '80s. Singer Stevie Wonder dedicated the song 'Happy Birthday' to the late King in the year 1980. This sparked a groundswell of public support for the establishment of a King holiday. In the year 1982, King's Wife and Wonder handed over a petition to the Speaker of the House with more than six million signatures in support of the national holiday as an honor to him. Activists also flocked to Washington, D.C. in 1983 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the March in Washington and the 15th Anniversary of King's assassination, respectively. Despite the opposition, the Act was approved by both chambers and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in November 1983. Finally, in 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a federal holiday for the first time. However, the fight for a day to honor King did not stop there; it would take almost another two decades for all fifty states to acknowledge the holiday.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a major socio-political protest against racial discrimination and segregation in the Montgomery mass transit system. It was truly a pivotal event in the United States fight for civil rights, and Martin Luther was at the forefront during the Montgomery Bus Boycott leading as president.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott is said to be a turning point in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. The campaign lasted from December 5, 1955, the day after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for refusing to leave her bus seat to a white man, till 20 December, 1956, when the federal ruling of the Browder v. Gayle case took place — announcing the Alabama and Montgomery bus discriminatory laws unconstitutional. Around the arrest of 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, a student at Montgomery's Booker T. Washington High School, black activists began to assemble a case to challenge state bus segregation regulations. Much before Rosa Parks' protest, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus on March 2, 1955, and she was forcibly removed, detained, and arrested. Claudette Colvin was also a member of the NAACP Youth Council, where Rosa Parks served as an advisor.

The Supreme Court's decision in Browder v. Gayle, which ended the Montgomery bus boycott in December 1956, was based on Colvin's legal argument. The incident led to widespread protests among African Americans as the treatment they received was indeed miserable. They were forced to vacate seats for white people, extra fares were charged from them, and though they consisted 75 percent of the total workforce, they were still looked upon and discriminated against by the white population. The activists fighting against discrimination formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to boycott the city's transit system and appointed King as their leader and president. In his first speech, he established his orating charm and was a fresh voice that had the potential to lead and move the masses. The boycott was extraordinarily successful, with the municipal transportation system losing enough users to inflict considerable economic hardship.

'A miracle had happened', Martin Luther King wrote later. Instead of taking the bus line, boycotters set up their own carpool. When officials got to know about the widespread protest, King was sentenced to a $500 fine or 386 days in prison. He was imprisoned for two weeks. The strategy failed, drawing national attention to the demonstration. Across the country, there was a surge in pressure. Browder v. Gayle, a similar civil complaint, was heard in federal district court on 5 June 1956, and the court decided that Alabama's bus racial segregation rules were unconstitutional. The boycott persisted as the state appealed the verdict. The Supreme Court stood by the district court's decision on 13 November 1956. After 382 days, the bus boycott came to an end on 20 December 1956. The Montgomery bus boycott had far-reaching consequences beyond the desegregation of public transportation.

Letter From Birmingham Jail

The 'Letter from Birmingham Jail', also known as 'The Negro Is Your Brother' letter is an open letter written by Martin Luther King Jr. on April 16, 1963. It asserts that people have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws and take direct action rather than waiting for justice to be given through the courts, which could take an eternity.

In this famous letter from Birmingham jail, King writes that 'Injustice anywhere is a direct threat to Justice everywhere'. The letter was extensively circulated and became an essential document for the American Civil Rights Movement. It was written in response to 'A Call for Unity' during the 1963 Birmingham campaign. It is said to be one of the most important historical papers made by a modern political prisoner. The 'A Call for Unity' clergymen acknowledged in King's letter, dated April 16, 1963, that social inequalities existed but urged that the war against racial segregation should be waged primarily in courts and not on the streets.

King, as a clergyman, replied to the religious objections. He argued on legal, political, and historical grounds as an activist attacking an entrenched social order. He talked about the country's mistreatment of black people, including himself, as an African American. He employed a variety of persuasion strategies as an orator to win over his audience's hearts and minds. Between 1964 and 1968, the letter was anthologized and reissued 50 times in 325 editions of 58 readers for college-level composition courses.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Speech

Martin Luther gave his last speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, just one day before his assassination. His last speech is famously known as 'I Have Been to the Mountain Top'.

The focus of the speech was on the Memphis sanitation strike. While urging the United States to live up to its principles, King calls for unity, economic activities, boycotts, and peaceful protest. He discusses the danger of early death near the end of his speech. He advised the demonstrators not to use violence, saying that if they did, the topic of unfairness would be overshadowed by the attention on the violence. King stated that nonviolent protests were the best course of action since they were the only way to ensure that their demands were heard and responded to. Regarding the civil rights movement, King asked that the United States defend what is guaranteed in the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence for all of its citizens, stating that he would never give up until these inherent rights were safeguarded. When it came to economic boycotts, King pushed for boycotting white goods as a peaceful protest tactic. King mentions threats to his life at the end of the address, using language that predicted his approaching death while maintaining that he was not frightened to die. He said that he had seen the promised land and assured his followers that the promised land was not far now, and he was happy about it.

Did You Know...

The man who killed King's mother was never sentenced to the death penalty. This was mainly because King's family was against capital punishment, and instead, a life sentence was what he got.

Did you know that modern political thinkers have raised the question of what if King was never assassinated?

Two schools of thought have attempted to solve the question. One school of thought is that if the King had never been assassinated, he would have actively participated in all of the other revolutions, and just like Nelson, he would have gained federal recognition later in life and might have even become President of the United States. The opposing school says that if the King had not died, the movement would never have gained emotional traction, and there would have been no such day to commemorate him. Therefore he became immortal when he died.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Martin Luther King Jr facts then why not take a look at Benjamin Franklin facts, or Thomas Jefferson facts.

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Written by Akinwalere Olaleye

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Akinwalere Olaleye picture

Akinwalere OlaleyeBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

As a highly motivated, detail-oriented, and energetic individual, Olaleye's expertise lies in administrative and management operations. With extensive knowledge as an Editor and Communications Analyst, Olaleye excels in editing, writing, and media relations. Her commitment to upholding professional ethics and driving organizational growth sets her apart. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. 

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