As America pauses to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., experts say his fight against poverty and inequality is still relevant today during the US civil rights movement.
Here are 10 lesser-known facts about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The saying ‘I have a dream’ was improvised
Halfway through her speech in 1963, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted: “Martin, tell them about the dream!”
The call-out prompted King to pivot to an earlier sermon he had given, where he described a version of the American Dream that was equal for all citizens.
“I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a country where they are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today,” said Dr King.
The iconic moment would later become known as the “I have a dream” speech. And there is still work to do to make Dr. King’s dream of equality a reality, said Leron Martin, director of Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Research and Education.
His dream of equality is quintessentially American, Mr Martin told the BBC.
“Despite all the indignities he suffered, King did an amazing job of constantly trying to show how his efforts were in line with American ideals,” he said.
His birth name is Michael King
Born on 15 January 1929, he was named after his father, Michael King. But six years later, King’s father visited Germany and learned about Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation.
He was so inspired that he returned home and officially changed his and his eldest son’s names to Martin Luther King.
King decided in college to become a teacher
In 1944, Martin Luther King Jr. was admitted to Morehouse College at the age of 15. Generations of the King family had graduated from the prestigious all-male historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.
According to the King Institute, the future civil rights leader is said to have been an “ordinary” student, but his time at Morehouse was instrumental in awakening his passion for social and political equality and inspired him to become an educator.
He was arrested more than 25 times
According to the King Center, during his 13 years as a civil rights leader, King was arrested 30 times, mostly for misdemeanors and civil protest violations. Although he was a frequent target of law enforcement, King did not enjoy prison time.
In October 1960, he was arrested after a sit-in at a department store in Atlanta and placed in a Georgia state prison. He wrote to his wife, Coretta, from prison that he hoped that “the great suffering that is now coming to our family will help to make Atlanta a better city, Georgia a better state, and America a better country.”
He has written five books
According to the King Center, King wrote five books during his lifetime and published several collections of his letters and sermons.
His 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait, chronicled the events that led to the landmark Birmingham, Alabama campaign to end segregation.
He was a Trekkie
Nichelle Nichols, known as the original Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek, was once introduced to someone who claimed to be “her biggest fan” – Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Nichols had resigned from his lead role on Star Trek. Met at the award ceremony. But when she told King she planned to leave the show, she told the Television Academy Foundation, King was adamant she couldn’t give up the iconic role.
“He said: ‘For the first time on television we see what we see every day, smart, classy, beautiful people … who can go into space,'” Nichols recalled.
“I realized that every word he was saying was true. In that moment, the world turned on me.” He would continue in the role for years.
He survived previous assassination attempts
In September 1958, King was signed copies of his latest book, Stride Toward Freedom, in Harlem, New York City when he was approached by a mentally ill woman. The woman verified that he was indeed the king before stabbing him to death with a seven-inch blade.
At the time, doctors said he was “a sneeze away from death” because the knife was so close to his aorta, according to the King Institute.
After learning that the woman was mentally ill, King said: “I don’t hold any bitterness towards her” and instead sought treatment for her.
King’s mother, Alberta, was also assassinated
On 30 June 1974, six years after King’s assassination, a 23-year-old man shot and killed King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, while playing the organ during a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The shooter was found guilty and sentenced to death, but was later commuted to life imprisonment in part due to King’s family’s opposition to the death penalty.
The royal family paid for the birth of Julia Roberts
In an interview with Gayle King It went viral recentlyActress Julia Roberts confirms a little-known fact about the day she was born.
“The King family paid my hospital bills,” she said, adding that the Roberts and King families became close because her parents welcomed the King’s children to their Atlanta acting school.
Later, when Julia was born and his family couldn’t afford the hospital bills, King and his wife Coretta “helped us out of a jam”.
He was only 39 when he was killed
Dr King was just 39 years old when he was assassinated on 4 April 1968. He spent less than 13 years in the public eye campaigning for civil rights and racial equality.
But according to the King Center, in that short time he was able to make more progress toward racial equality in the United States than in the previous 350 years.