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11 Amazing Martin Luther King Facts

Think you know everything about one of the most important civil rights activists of all time? You might be surprised!

Beano Facts Team
Last Updated:ย  March 14th 2023

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century. He was a social activist who fought for equal rights for African Americans, all the way up until his assassination in 1968. There's a lot to learn about him though - do you know what age he went to college, or which other icon he shares a birthday with? Read on to find out! For more history, have a go at our Martin Luther King Jr. quiz, try our Rosa Parks quiz, or learn all about Black History Month!

1. "Martin" isn't his birth name!

MLK's name at birth was actually Michael! He was inspired by Protestant Reform leader Martin Luther and then changed it!

2. He was a prodigy

MLK went to college at the age of 15. He was so smart he actually skipped several years of school!

3. He had a PhD

King got a degree in divinity (the study of Christianity), and then went to Boston University for his PhD. He was SUPER smart!

4. He was born into difficult circumstances

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 in Georgia, a Southern US state. Life was very difficult for African-Americans here. The Southern USA had Jim Crow laws, which kept Black and white people apart. This was called "segregation", and it meant that Black people couldn't use the same public facilities as white people (toilets, pools, drinking fountains etc), and also that Black people couldn't vote.

5. He's the same age as Anne Frank

Anne Frank is remembered as a teen diarist from WWII, but she and MLK were born in the same year! Anne died in 1945 at the age of fifteen when she was murdered by the Nazis for being Jewish. Martin Luther King Jr. lived a lot longer, and is more associated with the 1960s and the civil rights movement. If they were both alive today they would be in their nineties!

6. His first big moment came in 1955

In this year, Rosa Parks was arrested in Alabama for refusing to give her seat up to a white man on a bus. This was a really big deal - African Americans had to sit at the back of the bus and had to give up their seats to white people. When Rosa refused to move, a protest was sparked and MLK helped to boycott the city buses. A boycott is when people refuse to buy or use a product because they don't agree with the morality of the company that makes it. After more than a year of protests it was ruled that segregation laws should no longer be recognised.

7. He believed in peace

MLK believed in peaceful protest, and he was inspired by Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. This meant that protestors would not react with violence even if the police used violence against them.

8. His most famous speech wasn't his first at the Lincoln Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr's most famous speech is his "I Have A Dream" speech. It's about his vision of a world where there is no racism. He gave it at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in 1963, but it wasn't his first speech there! He gave a speech about voting rights at the same memorial in 1957.

9. He won the Nobel prize

The Nobel Prize is a huge honour that is awarded for benefitting humankind. MLK won the Peace Prize in 1964. He learned over the phone while he was in bed - he was very exhausted after campaigning for civil rights.

10. He was imprisoned many times

Not everyone was on board for civil right in the 1960s - in fact, many opposed it. Martin Luther King Jr was sent to jail 29 times for his peaceful protests. He was arrested on minor charges too, to keep him away from protesting for equal rights.

11. His birthday is a national holiday in the States

Only a few Americans have their birthdays observed as an actual holiday They include George Washington (the first president of the US), Abraham Lincoln (the 16th president), Cesar Chavez (a labour leader and civil rights activist) and Martin Luther King Jr. This is a big honour, and a day to remember MLK and his fight for civil rights.