7 Hidden Facts About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Every year on the third Monday in January, the United States celebrates the life of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King is widely known and respected for his commitment to racial equality, advocating for a nonviolent method of social change, and preaching unforgettable words to mass audiences.
While popular memory has enshrined this image of King, the late civil rights leader was a man of many positions and actions, as well as the occasional flaw.
1. King opposed the Vietnam War
In 1967, one year before his assassination, King delivered a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam” at New York City’s Riverside Church.
King took exception to the war in part because of the belief that resources being used to fight in Vietnam were being taken from domestic improvement programs.
“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem,” stated King.
2. King opposed homosexuality
During the 1950s, King was an advice columnist for the African American publication Ebony Magazine.
In 1958, an unnamed teenager wrote a letter to King, noting that he was struggling with homosexual thoughts.
“I am a boy, but I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What can I do?” queried the young man.
King responded to the question, referring to homosexuality as a “problem” and encouraging the youth to seek counseling.
“Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired,” wrote King.
“Therefore, it is necessary to deal with this problem by getting back to some of the experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit.”
3. King held a negative opinion of Malcolm X
King and Malcolm X have oftentimes been grouped together, most likely because they had a common enemy in white supremacy.
Yet the two charismatic and influential activists were hardly on the same page when it came to each other, especially regarding tactics and ethics.
In Chapter 25 of his autobiography, King noted that he had met Malcolm X briefly at one point in Washington but found the Nation of Islam member disagreeable.
“I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views — at least insofar as I understand where he now stands,” wrote King.
“I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, as he has done, can reap nothing but grief.”
Given that Malcolm X called the famous March on Washington for jobs and freedom the “Farce on Washington” and called King “Rev. Dr. Chicken-wing,” the feeling of disagreeableness might have been mutual.
4. King plagiarized his doctoral dissertation
A man known for his compelling rhetoric and memorable quotes, an academe with years of college under his belt, it might come as a shock that King once engaged in plagiarism.
In October of 1991, Boston University announced that King plagiarized portions of his doctoral dissertation 36 years before.
“Despite its finding, the committee said that ‘no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King’s doctoral degree,’ an action that the panel said would serve no purpose,” reported The New York Times.
“But the committee did recommend that a letter stating its finding be placed with the official copy of Dr. King’s dissertation in the university’s library.”
For their part, The Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project addressed the plagiarism in Volume II of The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr. titled “Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955″: Although the extent of King’s plagiaries suggest he knew that he was at least skirting academic norms, the extant documents offer no direct evidence in this matter,” stated the Project.
“King’s actions during his early adulthood indicate that he increasingly saw himself as a preacher appropriating theological scholarship rather than as an academic producing such scholarship.”
5. King opposed Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign
While oftentimes having to deal with the wrath of southern sheriffs who belonged to the Democratic Party, Dr. King did not necessarily spare the Republican Party any criticism.
When limited government proponent Barry Goldwater became the Republican nominee for president in 1964, King called on blacks and whites to vote against him.
“On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal,” wrote King in his autobiography.
“While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand.”
King even took these complaints internationally. On a trip to the Netherlands in August of 1964, he again took time to criticize Goldwater.
“For the first time a major political party has nominated a man who articulates views that are totally out of harmony with the mainstream of American thought and views that are more in line with the 18th century than the 20th century,” said King.
6. King supported the removal of faculty-led prayer in public schools
King was a clergyman, an activist who very much believed that churches should be involved in social change movements.
He headed an advocacy group called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but that did not mean he did not have limits on how much church and state could mingle.
In an interview published by Playboy in 1965, King explained that he supported the then-recent U.S. Supreme Court decision removing faculty-led prayer from public schools.
“Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right,” said King.
“I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court.”
7. King used to be a Michael
How different history would be indeed! There is evidence to indicate that Martin Luther King Sr., father of King, was originally Michael Luther King.
Furthermore, there is a murky possibility that official records involved the men doting the names Michael Luther King Sr. and Michael Luther King Jr.
Snopes.com vetted the claim and was able to turn up remarks from King Sr. that came from a speech given in 1957:
“I had been known as Michael Luther King or ‘Mike’ up until I was 22 … when one day my father, James Albert King, told me: ‘You aren’t named Mike or Michael either. Your name is Martin Luther King. Your mother just called you Mike for short,'” said King Sr.
“I gladly accepted Martin Luther King as my real name and when M.L. was born, I proudly named him Martin Luther King Jr. But it was not until 1934, when I was seeking my first passport … that I found out that Dr. Johnson, who delivered M.L., had listed him in the city records as Michael Luther King Jr., because he thought that was my real name.”