Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr


12 Historic Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.

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Monday, January 16, marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the federal date of recognition for one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement. Signed by President Reagan in 1983, the holiday marked the culmination of efforts that started just four days after King’s assassination in 1968, when Representative John Conyers of Michigan began 15 years of introducing and reintroducing a bill to establish the holiday. (Stevie Wonder joined the chorus of Americans backing Conyers’ efforts; in 1980 he wrote the song “Happy Birthday” to help create a groundswell of support.)

While it would be impossible to encompass everything King accomplished in a mere list, we’ve compiled a few intriguing facts that may pique your interest in finding out more about the man who helped unite a divided nation.

1. MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS NOT HIS GIVEN NAME.

One of the most recognizable proper names of the 20th century wasn’t actually what was on the birth certificate. The future civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929, named after his father Michael King. When the younger King was 5 years old, his father decided to change both their names after learning more about 16th century theologian Martin Luther, who was one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. Inspired by that battle, Michael King soon began referring to himself and his son as Martin Luther King.

2. HE WAS A DOCTOR OF THEOLOGY.

Using the prefix “doctor” to refer to King has become a reflex, but not everyone is aware of the origin of King’s Ph.D. He attended Boston University and graduated in 1955 with a doctorate in systematic theology. King also had a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary.

3. HE TOOK 30 TRIPS TO JAIL.

Dr. King leading a march from Selma, Alabama to its capital, Montgomery, in March 1965. Getty

A powerful voice for an ignored and suppressed minority, opponents tried to silence King the old-fashioned way: incarceration. In the 12 years he spent as the recognized leader of the civil rights movement, King was arrested and jailed 30 times. Rather than brood, King used the unsolicited downtime to further his cause. Jailed in Birmingham for eight days in 1963, he penned “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a long treatise responding to the oppression supported by white religious leaders in the South.

“I’m afraid that it is much too long to take your precious time,” he wrote. “I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?”

4. 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.

5. A SINGLE SNEEZE COULD HAVE ALTERED HISTORY FOREVER.

Our collective memory of King always has an unfortunate addendum: his 1968 assassination that brought an end to his personal crusade against social injustice. But if Izola Ware Curry had her way, King’s mission would have ended 10 years earlier. At a Harlem book signing in 1958, Ware approached King and plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest, nearly puncturing his aorta. Surgery was needed to remove it. Had King so much as sneezed, doctors said, the wound was so close to his heart that it would have been fatal.  Curry, a 42-year-old black woman, was having paranoid delusions about the NAACP that soon crystallized around King. She was committed to an institution and died in 2015.

6. HE GOT A “C” IN PUBLIC SPEAKING.

King’s promise as one of the great orators of his time was late in coming. While attending Crozer Theological Seminary between 1948 to 1951, King’s marks were diluted by C and C+ grades in two terms of public speaking.

7. HE WON A GRAMMY.

At the 13th annual Grammy Awards in 1971, a recording of King’s 1967 address, “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam,” took home a posthumous award for Best Spoken Word recording. In 2012, his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (it was included decades later because its 1969 nomination was beaten for the Spoken Word prize by Rod McKuen’s “Lonesome Cities”).

8. HE LOVED STAR TREK.

It’s not easy to imagine King having the time or inclination to sit down and watch primetime sci-fi on television, but according to actress Nichelle Nichols, King and his family made an exception for Star Trek. In 1967, the actress met King, who told her he was a big fan and urged her to reconsider her decision to leave the show to perform on Broadway. “My family are your greatest fans,” Nichols recalled King telling her, and said he continued with, “As a matter of fact, this is the only show on television that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to watch, to stay up and watch because it’s on past their bedtime.” Nichols’ character of Lt. Uhura, he said, was important because she was a strong, professional black woman. If Nichols left, King noted, the character could be replaced by anyone, since “[Uhura] is not a black role. And it’s not a female role.” Based on their talk, Nichols decided to remain on the show for the duration of its three-season original run.

9. HE SPENT HIS WEDDING NIGHT IN A FUNERAL PARLOR.

Circa 1956. Getty.

When King married his wife, Coretta, in her father’s backyard in 1953, there was virtually no hotel in Marion, Alabama that would welcome a newlywed black couple. A friend of Coretta’s happened to be an undertaker, and invited the Kings into one of the guest rooms at his funeral parlor.

10. RONALD REAGAN WAS OPPOSED TO A KING HOLIDAY.

Despite King’s undeniable worthiness, MLK Day was not a foregone conclusion. 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, and both were concerned about King’s possible Communist sympathies. Common sense prevailed, and the bill was signed into law on November 2, 1983. The holiday officially began being recognized in January 1986.

11. WE’LL SOON SEE HIM ON THE $5 BILL.

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, plans call 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..

12. ONE OF KING’S VOLUNTEERS WALKED AWAY WITH A PIECE OF HISTORY.

King’s 1963 oration from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, will always be remembered as one of the most provocative public addresses ever given. George Raveling, who was 26 at the time, had volunteered to help King and his team during the event. When it was over, Raveling sheepishly asked King for the copy of the three-page speech. King handed it over without hesitation; Raveling kept it for the next 20 years before he fully understood its historical significance and removed it from the book he had been storing it in.

He’s turned down offers of up to $3.5 million, insisting that the document will remain in his family—always noting that the most famous passage, where King details his dream of a united nation, isn’t on the sheet. It was improvised.

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                                                                                       Martin Luther King Jr.                     
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                                                          Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to American people

Martin Luther King Day


I started thinking about Martin Luther King Day last night and I had just started a biography of Sojourner Truth, a female slave who left a mark on her world and America. There is a play about her called: God and a Woman.

 

MLK’s speech, “I had a dream” was equivalent to the Gettysburg Address.  I think that if he were alive today he would give a new speech, maybe even stronger than his original, amazing words.

 

I think he would continue to decry the racism that still exists. He would exhort us to insist on equality for everyone, no matter what their race, religion or lack of one, education, economic status, or perceived or actual disability.

 

I think he would be speaking out for progressive ideas and working hard to get Congress to do their jobs. I think he would have a lot to say about all of the fighting in the House and Senate. It is a shame he is not here to raise that thundering voice for the people of America. He was a great man. A man I respect enormously.

 

I know that I have a dream today, and I do think that Martin Luther King would approve.

 

I dream that we can Stop the War on Women. I dream that we can Stop Violence in the Home. I dream that we can make sure every child has a good education. I dream that we can stop banks and other lending facilities from gouging students on their student loan payments.

 

I dream that  No means No and that all rapists or molesters will be punished as severely as if they had committed murder. Because  rape is a sort of murder:  it kills a victim’s life and sense of safety and is a horrible violation that changes the victim’s life forever.

 

I dream that all countries take in refugees and treat them with respect and care for their needs. We have done it before, when the refugee could have been looking to do America harm. But we took in the Jews, Poles, Gypsies and refugees from other countries. Jihad is a war. We need to respond to those who are homeless, stateless, hungry and in need of clothes and food.  One country cannot do it all but if we were to work together, there would be much less suffering for those on the run.

 

I think Martin Luther King would agree with these thoughts and he would say it much better than I can. But he isn’t here to do that, because those who were small-minded and threatened by a black man saying courageous things stopped him in the most final and violent way possible. So we must say it, on his behalf and on behalf of everyone else who cannot speak for themselves.

 

We must have a dream where every person receives equality and justice. MLK would be so upset about the mass murders and cops killing black people and Asian people and Hispanic people and yes even Caucasian people.

 

I believe if we work together we can make his dreams come true. We can create the world he envisioned. We can take care of each other and feel a responsibility for other people. We can stand shoulder to shoulder with each other and with his memory to make this world just, equal and peaceful for all people and countries.

 

Namaste,

Barbara

 

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Assassination


MLK

Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated

At 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel.

By Jennifer Rosenberg

6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was hit by a sniper’s bullet. King had been standing on the balcony in front of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when, without warning, he was shot. The .30-caliber rifle bullet entered King’s right cheek, traveled through his neck, and finally stopped at his shoulder blade. King was immediately taken to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m.

Violence and controversy followed. In outrage of the murder, many blacks took to the streets across the United States in a massive wave of riots. The FBI investigated the crime, but many believed them partially or fully responsible for the assassination. An escaped convict by the name of James Earl Ray was arrested, but many people, including some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s own family, believe he was innocent.

What happened that evening?

 

Martin Luther King Jr: A Dedicated Leader

When Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as the leader of the a Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, he began a long tenure as the spokesperson for nonviolent protest in the Civil Rights Movement. As a Baptist minister, he was a moral leader to the community. Plus, he was charismatic and had a powerful way of speaking. He was also a man of vision and determination. He never stopped dreaming of what could be.

Yet he was a man, not a God. He was most often overworked and overtired. And he had a fondness for the private company of women. And though he was the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, he did not have complete control over the Civil Rights Movement.

By 1968, violence had edged its way into the movement. Black Panther Party members carried loaded weapons; riots had erupted across the country; and numerous civil rights organizations had taken up the mantra “Black Power!”

Yet Martin Luther King held strong to his beliefs, even as he saw the Civil Rights Movement being torn in two. Violence is what brought King back to Memphis in April 1968.

 

Striking Sanitation Workers in Memphis

On February 12, thirteen hundred African-American sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike. Though there had been a long history of grievances, the strike was begun as a response to a January 31 incident in which 22 black sanitation workers were sent home without pay during bad weather while all the white workers remained on the job. When the City of Memphis refused to negotiate with the 1,300 striking workers, King and other civil rights leaders were asked to visit Memphis in support.

On Monday, March 18, King managed to fit in a quick stop in Memphis, where he spoke to over 15,000 who had gathered at Mason Temple. Ten days later, King arrived in Memphis to lead a march in support of the striking workers. Unfortunately, as King led the crowd, a few of the protesters got rowdy and smashed the windows of a storefront. The violence spread and soon countless others had taken up sticks and were breaking windows and looting stores.

Police moved in to disperse the crowd. Some of the marchers threw stones at the police. The police responded with tear gas and nightsticks. At least one of the marchers was shot and killed.

King was extremely distressed at the violence that had erupted in his own march and became determined not to let violence prevail. He scheduled another march in Memphis for April 8.

On April 3, King arrived in Memphis a little later than planned because there had been a bomb threat for his flight before takeoff. That evening, King delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to a relatively small crowd that had braved the bad weather to hear King speak. King’s thoughts were obviously on his mortality, for he discussed the plane threat as well as the time he had been stabbed. He concluded the speech with

 

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and 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 so 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.

After the speech, King went back to the Lorraine Motel to rest.

Martin Luther King Stands on the Lorraine Motel Balcony

The Lorraine Motel (now the National Civil Rights Museum) was a relatively drab, two-story motor inn on Mulberry Street in downtown Memphis. Yet it had become a habit of Martin Luther King and his entourage to stay at the Lorraine Motel when they visited Memphis.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King and his friends were getting dressed to have dinner with Memphis minister Billy Kyles. King was in Room 306 on the second floor and hurried to get dressed since they were, as usual, running a bit late. While putting on his shirt and using Magic Shave Powder to shave, King chatted with Ralph Abernathy about an upcoming event.
Around 5:30 p.m., Kyles had knocked on their door to hurry them along. The three men joked about what was to be served for dinner. King and Abernathy wanted to confirm that they were going to be served “soul food” and not something like filet mignon. About half an hour later, Kyles and King stepped out from the motel room onto the balcony (basically the outside walkway that connected all the motel’s second-story rooms). Abernathy had gone to his room to put on some cologne.
Near the car in the parking lot directly below the balcony, waited James Bevel, Chauncey Eskridge (SCLC lawyer), Jesse Jackson, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and Solomon Jones, Jr. (the driver of the loaned white Cadillac). A few remarks were exchanged between the men waiting below and Kyles and King. Jones remarked that King should get a topcoat since it might get cold later; King replied, “O.K.”
Kyles was just a couple steps down the stairs and Abernathy was still inside the motel room when the shot rang out. Some of the men initially thought it a car backfire, but others realized it was a rifle shot. King had fallen to the concrete floor of the balcony with a large, gaping wound covering his right jaw.

Martin Luther King Jr. Shot!
Abernathy ran out of his room to see his dear friend fallen, laying in a puddle of blood. He held King’s head saying, “Martin, it’s all right. Don’t worry. This is Ralph. This is Ralph.” *
Kyles had gone into a motel room to call an ambulance while others encircled King. Marrell McCollough, an undercover Memphis police officer, grabbed a towel and tried to stop the flow of blood. Though King was unresponsive, he was still alive – but only barely.
Within fifteen minutes of the shot, Martin Luther King arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face. He had been hit by a .30-06 caliber rifle bullet that had entered his right jaw, then traveled through his neck, severing his spinal cord, and stopped in his shoulder blade.
The doctors tried emergency surgery but the wound was too serious. Martin Luther King, Jr. was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.

 

Ihaveadream

And this was the end to a dream. First John F. Kennedy and then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They were soon to be followed by the loss of Robert Kennedy. Had these three men survived we would have an entirely different America. A more loving, more accepting, more inclusive America  than we know now. So in memory, of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., I am honoring his life and his death today. I thank God he did live even if it was too short of a time. I thank him for having a dream and sharing it with all of us. I am sorry that so many have turned from his message. I declare that I for one, will always remember him and what he gave his life for. I will love all of my brothers and sisters. I will remind others of your great words.

Thank you, Doctor King, for your vision.