Today would have been Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s (“MLK”) 91st birthday.
The most influential figure from the Civil Rights movement, MLK’s legacy has inspired people around the world to fight for equality. However, as is often the case with historical figures, MLK’s legacy has been sanitized by the history books.
To this day, much of what people know about the MLK is limited to his iconic role in the 1963 March on Washington. But, when you dig below the surface, you quickly find that MLK was also a man, albeit one that would go on to do great things.
Michael, or “Little Mike,” as he was called by his father, was born on January 15, 1929, to Reverend Michael King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King.
MLK was the second child, and first son born to the Reverend and Mrs. King. The King’s also had a daughter, Willie Christine King, and another son, Alfred Daniel Williams King.
MLK attended Booker T. Washington High School; the first black public high school built in Atlanta, Georgia. A gifted student, MLK would go on to skip both the 9th and 12th grades.
Because of his high score on the college entrance examinations, MLK was admitted to Morehouse at the age of fifteen, without formally graduating from high school.
At Morehouse, MLK was a popular, but unmotivated student. Throughout his undergraduate studies, MLK earned mostly B's and passed classes that were pass/fail.
In 1948, MLK graduated from Morehouse; receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.
Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist minsters, MLK almost did not become a minister himself. After graduating from Morehouse, MLK told his father that he did not want to become a minister; instead considering the fields of medicine or law.
Morehouse College President, Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced MLK otherwise. Mays, an outspoken advocate for racial equality, encouraged MLK to view Christianity as a potential force for social change.
Concluding that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape,” MLK eventually decided to become a minister, entering seminary at Crozer Theological Seminary, near Chester, Pennsylvania.
It was at Crozer that MLK strengthened his commitment to the Christian social gospel, was first exposed to pacifism, and developed his ideas about nonviolence as a method of social reform.
While attending seminary, MLK also met his first love.
MLK and Betty Moitz met at Crozer, where Moitz’s mother and grandmother were dieticians. “We were madly, madly in love, the way young people can fall in love,” Betty stated in 2016.
Sadly, society was not yet ready to accept an interracial romance.
MLK only publicly spoke about this romance one time. In Lerone Bennett’s 1964 biography, “What Matter of Man,” MLK is quoted as saying: “She liked me and I found myself liking her. But finally I had to tell her resolutely that my plans for the future did not include marriage to a white woman.”
Reverend Pius J. Barbour, a close friend of MLK, stated that the realization left MLK, a “man with a broken heart.”
In May 1951, MLK received his Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary with honors, graduating as class valedictorian.
After being accepted to several doctoral programs, MLK enrolled at Boston University. While working on his doctorate, MLK met Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer and musician at the New England Conservatory school in Boston.
In June 1953 MLK and Scott married. They would go on to have four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice.
In 1955, at the age of 25, MLK graduated from Boston University, receiving his Doctorate in Systematic Theology. Upon graduation, MLK accepted the call to ministry, becoming Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
On July 23, 1957, at the age of 28, MLK followed his father and had his birth certificate revised, officially becoming Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although MLK’s work as a civil rights leader is well known, there are still many aspects of his life and work that remain lesser known.
For example, MLK was a pool shark. As a fifteen-year-old at Morehouse College, MLK was reluctant to take part in the campus social scene. But soon, MLK and Walter McCall, a twenty-one-year-old army veteran, were holding court in the campus recreation room. “We played pool until sometimes three o’clock in the morning,” McCall said.
MLK would later use pool to reach citizens ignored by other preachers.
In "Reflections on Our Pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church," one of MLK's former parishioners stated: "I knew some of the guys who hung out in the vicinity of the pool room," Wiley Thomas wrote. "One or two of them were real thugs. However, these, too, loved Martin Luther King Jr.”
"Wherever he went the pool room element followed,” Thomas stated. “This element usually will not follow preachers, but then preachers do not usually go to pool rooms either."
MLK was also a Star Trek fan. A huge fan of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, Star Trek was the only show MLK allowed his children to stay up late to watch.
After the first season, Nichols decided to leave the show for a role on Broadway. MLK convinced Nichols to stay on the show.
Despite his calls for non-violent protest, MLK was also a supporter of the Second Amendment. In 1956, after his house was bombed, MLK applied for a concealed carry permit in Alabama.
Much like today’s Second Amendment supporters, MLK knew that if the police can not (or will not) protect you, a firearm is your family’s last line of defense.
Today, we pause to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. It is important that we also remember MLK’s complexity as a person. His life, not just his words, paint a more accurate and extensive picture of a great man who continues to challenge and inspire us.