“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Thursday night, celebrations honoring the life and work of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. are set to begin. Martin Luther King had a vision of a society in which race was not a factor in how citizens were allowed to live their lives. While nothing is perfect or complete in the battle for civil rights, the efforts of King, and those like him have made the world a more equal place and has drastically improved the voice of minorities.
Here are a few little-known facts about the exceptional Martin Luther King Jr. that we’ve gathered from the web:
1. King entered college at the age of 15.
King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades 9 and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.
2. In his efforts to fight segregation and inequality, King traveled more than six million miles and spoke more than 2,500 times!
As he noted in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which had more than 80 affiliated organizations throughout the South. Why not just telephone, instead of constantly being on the road? “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham,” King wrote. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
3. King received his doctorate in systematic theology.
After earning a divinity degree from Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary, King attended graduate school at Boston University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1955. The title of his dissertation was “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”
4. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
Six years before his iconic oration 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, King 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.
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.
Check your local community websites for volunteer opportunities this weekend, and get involved!