1. King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.
His father, a pastor at a Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.
2. King entered college at the age of 15.
King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not plan on following the family vocation until Benjamin E. Mays, a well-known theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.
3. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
Six years before his iconic speech at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, he delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.
4. King was jailed 29 times.
According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail nearly 30 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.
5. George Washington is the only other American to have had his birthday observed as a national holiday.
In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor King. The holiday, first commemorated in 1986, is celebrated on the third Monday in January, close to the civil rights leader’s January 15 birthday.