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5 Facts You May Not Know about Martin Luther King Jr.

Each January, we celebrate the extraordinary life of Martin Luther King Jr. His life and legacy changed not only the United States of America, but the entire world, as he led the fight for equal rights for all individuals regardless of race.

Dr. King is most famously known for his “I Have a Dream Speech” given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. But what are some lesser known facts about Dr. King that bring a greater understanding to his work and his legacy?

FamilySearch has compiled five interesting facts about Dr. King’s life and legacy that you may not know. We hope this list can be a starting point in your celebration of Dr. King on this day.  

1. He held a doctorate in theology.

Martin Luther King Jr as a pastor

Dr. King earned the title of “Doctor” through a PhD in systematic theology, which he earned at Boston University in 1955. Prior to his doctorate degree, Dr. King earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Morehouse College at age 19. He was also awarded a bachelor’s degree in divinity in 1951 from Crozer Theological Seminary.

Dr. King followed in the footsteps of his father by becoming a pastor. After he earned his PhD, the King family relocated to Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church at age 25. Dr. King’s leadership and gift for oration eventually led him to be recruited as the leader and  spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycott at age 26, an event inspired by Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white person.

2. He was jailed 29 times.

Dr. King was thrown into jail nearly 30 times over the
course of his lifetime as he advocated for civil rights. He was arrested for
acts of civil disobedience as well as for such things as “loitering” and minor
traffic violations.

3. A memorial stands in Washington, D.C., to honor him.

People at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
People at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial opened to the public in 2011.  It was the first memorial to honor an African American on the National Mall, and the only major memorial located on the National Mall that isn’t dedicated to a former president.

The main feature of the memorial is a 30-foot high relief sculpture of Dr. King cut out of a mountain. It is symbolic of Dr. King’s remarks during his “I Have a Dream Speech” where he stated the dream of hewing “out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”; Dr. King symbolizes the stone of hope.

4. The cause of Dr. King continues through the efforts of
his family.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

The work of the civil rights movement extended beyond Dr. King into his own family. Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s wife, worked alongside King as a leader of civil rights and actively participated in the women’s movement during and after the assassination of her husband. She founded the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and is the individual credited with making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a reality.

Dr. King and Coretta had four children: Martin Luther III, Bernice, Yolanda, and Dexter. Each of them have found their own way to contribute to the quest for civil rights, social justice, and the improvement of society. Just last year, Martin Luther King III attended RootsTech, an annual genealogical conference hosted by FamilySearch, as an honored guest. He spoke during the announcement of a $2 million donation to the International African American Museum by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

5. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a not a day dedicated to leisure, but to action and service.

The Corporation for National and Community Service states that the holiday, observed on the third Monday in January, is “a day on, not a day off.” It notes that the holiday is the “only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.” Every year, communities come together and organize service projects to commemorate Dr. King’s life and mission. You and your family can make service a part of your celebration as well. To find volunteer opportunities in your own community, click the button below:

Source: Family Search

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