10 things to know about Martin Luther King

Karen Sorensen | 1/19/2015, 8:53 a.m.
There are many facts about the civil rights leader's life that you might not know as we honor his memory ...

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, here are 10 things you might not know about the lauded civil rights leader who changed history:

  1. Martin Luther King Jr. was christened Michael King Jr. When his father became pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1931, he adopted the name Martin Luther King Sr. -- in honor of Protestant leader Martin Luther -- and his son followed suit. However, King never legally changed his name.

  2. The first assassination attempt on King was made in 1958 when a mentally ill woman named Izola Curry stabbed him in the chest with a steel letter opener while he was signing books at a Harlem department store. The knife wound was so close to his aorta that doctors said a sneeze could have killed him.

  3. King skipped the ninth and eleventh grades and never graduated from high school. He enrolled in Morehouse College in 1944 when he was just 15. He completed his doctorate at Boston University when he was 25.

  4. The NAACP leaders in Montgomery, Ala., chose King as their spokesman for the city bus boycott following Rosa Park's arrest because while he was well-educated, well-spoken and young, he was also new to town and knew few people.

  5. The first time King was arrested was Oct. 19, 1960, during a lunch counter sit-in in Atlanta. The city's mayor, fearing bad publicity, had all those arrested quickly released. However, King was jailed very soon thereafter for violating his release terms by committing a traffic violation. It was only after word got out that presidential candidate John Kennedy had called King's wife to express his concern that King was again released.

  6. A bill to make King's birthday a national holiday was introduced days after his 1968 assassination. However, it wasn't signed into law until 1983. Still, many states resisted, some naming the holiday "Civil Rights Day" and "Human Rights Day," and others honoring Confederate leaders on the same day. Utah was the last state to officially adopt Martin Luther King Day in 2000. In South Carolina, state employees can still choose between it and three Confederate-related days as a paid holiday.

  7. King suffered recurrent episodes of severe depression, and once tried to commit suicide at age 12 following the death of his grandmother in 1941. King had snuck out of the house to watch a parade, against the wishes of his parents, during which time his grandmother died. He was so upset that he jumped from a second-story window of his family home.

  8. After his death, King's autopsy found that while he was just 39 years old, he had the heart of a 60-year-old. Doctors concluded the pressure he had experienced in his career had stressed and aged his heart.

  9. When noted writer and essayist Dorothy Parker died in 1967 with no heirs, she left her literary estate to King because she admired his work. When King died just a year later, the bequeath went to the NAACP, which continues to receive royalties from her work.

  10. Actress Nichelle Nichols, who made history playing the first non-black stereotype role on a television show, planned to quit Star Trek after the first year when her role as Uhura was reduced to a supporting character. It was only after King sought her out at an event to tell her he was a huge fan -- and entreated her to stay when she told him of her imminent departure -- that she reconsidered and stayed.

Sources: www.biography.com, www.factmonster.com, wsj.com, stanford.edu, www.psychologytoday.com, www.dorothyparker.com, http://list25.com