Weird History

15 Surprising And Little-Known Facts About Martin Luther King Jr. 

Noelle Talmon
Updated January 14, 2020 29.8k views 15 items

Civil Rights activist and Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr., is most remembered for his use of nonviolence and civil disobedience to advance civil rights and pursue equal opportunities for African Americans. He opposed segregation and marched on Washington, DC, to deliver his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963 and, the following year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for opposing racial inequality through nonviolent resistance.

Tragically, MLK was assassinated in 1968 by James Earl Ray. He was then posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal and, in 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially established as a federal holiday. However, there are many other fascinating things about MLK that you may not know. From his reaction to the death of his grandmother to his unusual honeymoon and penchant for cigarettes, MLK's life and childhood was full of monumental events.

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He Was Smoking A Cigaret... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 15 Surprising And Little-Known Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons
He Was Smoking A Cigarette When He Was Shot

There are very few photos of King smoking, even though he was known to smoke regularly. On the day he was assassinated, he was on the balcony of his hotel smoking a cigarette.

He actively hid the habit for two major reasons: First, there was a social stigma attached to the habit, particularly since he was a minister. Second, he didn't want his children to see him smoke and take up the habit themselves. After he died, Rev. Kyles allegedly removed the pack of cigarettes from his pocket to conceal the fact that King was smoking when he was killed.

He Was Nearly Killed By ... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 15 Surprising And Little-Known Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo: Dick DeMarsico/Wikimedia Commons
He Was Nearly Killed By A Letter Opener A Decade Before His Assassination

During a book signing in 1958, a woman named Izola Ware Curry approached King saying, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and then stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. Doctors spent a labor-intensive three hours trying to remove the instrument, as it was positioned dangerously close to King's aorta and even the slightest slip would have killed him.

He Started College At Ag... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 15 Surprising And Little-Known Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo: Rowland Scherman/Wikimedia Commons
He Started College At Age 15

King did so well in school that he was able to skip grades 9 and 12, and was even accepted into college as a freshman at age 15. He attended Morehouse College in 1944, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Initially, King had no interest in becoming a Baptist minister even though his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all been called to the ministry; however, Benjamin E. Mays - the president of Morehouse - persuaded King to finish his work with the ministry.

He also received his undergraduate degree in sociology, and went on to obtain his second bachelor's degree in divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA. And by the time he was 25, he had attained his PhD in systematic theology from Boston University.

He And Coretta Spent The... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 15 Surprising And Little-Known Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo: Herman Hiller/Wikimedia Commons
He And Coretta Spent Their Wedding Night In A Funeral Home

King and his wife, Coretta, spent their wedding night together in a funeral home, but not because someone died. In 1953, hotels didn't offer honeymoon suites to African American couples, so a friend offered King and Coretta an evening at his funeral home to celebrate.