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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — The Man

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 24: People visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech on the National Mall on August 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. A commemorative march and a rally along the historic route followed in 1963 is led by civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

“I Have A Dream”

Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech in Washington. The speech is commonly referred to as the “I Have A Dream Speech.” There will be a lot of posts, editorials, letters to the editors, and other comments about this famous oratory and how it relates to civil rights today. While the speech itself is very deserving of a considerable amount of ink, I thought I would talk about the man.

Some Facts About Dr. King You Might Not Know

  • His first name was actually Michael, after this father. The elder King changed his name after a 1931 trip to Germany in homage of Martin Luther. Michael Luther King, Jr. was renamed Martin when he was two years old.
  • At the age of twelve he attended a parade against the wishes of his parents. Returning home he found that his grandmother had died of a heart attack while he was gone. In his grief he went upstairs and jumped out the second story window in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Lorraine Bailey also died that day of a heart attack when she saw what happened. She was the wife of the hotel owner and also the switchboard operator at the hotel and that explains the delay in Reverend Samuel Keys repeated attempts to get an ambulance to the scene.
  • King Jr. skipped the 9th and 11th grade putting him in Moorehouse College at the ripe old age of 15. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology at 19.
  • After college King, Jr. had doubts about the Bible and Christianity and told his father about his thoughts of becoming a doctor or lawyer instead. After rethinking that decision he decided that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape.” He enrolled in Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary and received a Ph.D. at the age of 25.
  • Even before going to the seminary King was acknowledged as an accomplished public speaker. So it was surprising that he received a “C” in public speaking his first academic year. That may have inspired him to do better because he became a straight “A” student in his senior year in addition to valedictorian and student body president.
  • At the age of 35, King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He eventually lost that title to Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. She won in 2011 at the age of 32. He is still the youngest male to ever take the prize. He donated the prize money (about $400,000 in today’s dollars) to the civil rights movement.
  • His mother was also murdered. Twenty-three year old Marcus Wayne Chenault who believed “all Christians are my enemies” shot Alberta Williams King while she was playing the organ at her church in 1974.

Some Final Thoughts

Dr. King, Jr. also had an indirect influence on American black stereotypes. He was instrumental in convincing Nichelle Nichols to keep her job. Who is she, and what was her job? She was Lieutenant Uhura on the classic TV show “Star Trek.”

King told her that she was portrayed as an intelligent black woman who was not shown as a maid or a servant. She was a black woman who served with white men as their equal in a position of important responsibility. She agreed to stay on after the first season of the show.

The Civil Rights Movement is always going to be a work in progress. Discrimination in its various forms will sadly always be with us. There are heroes and villains in any worthy endeavor. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was most definitely a hero to millions of black citizens both in the US and around the world.

Sometimes it seems like one step forward and two steps back but each day another stereotype is removed from the political and social scene. When I woke up this morning there are black mayors of major cities, there is a Black Supreme Court Justice, black congressmen and woman, and a black President of the United States. I think Dr. King would be smiling — but still working. There is still work to be done. Are you the part of the solution? Or part of the problem?

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