Martin Luther King Jr.’s Childhood and Education

Surprising Facts about Martin Luther King Jr.’s Childhood
and Education

Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, 1964

Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, 1964

  • King’s birth name was not Martin Luther. When he was born in 1929, King was named after his father, Michael King. When King’s father attended a conference for Baptist ministers in Germany, he decided to legally change his name to Martin Luther, and his son’s name was changed to Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Despite growing up during the Depression, King said that his family had enough money. His father, Martin Luther King Sr. was a pastor and his congregation respected him so much that they refused to see their leader’s family go hungry.
  • Although he grew up in the South, King didn’t experience violent racial prejudice. Atlanta offered education for African Americans through black colleges. There were also social bonds formed at church where his father preached. Though blacks and whites didn’t attend the same schools or share seats on buses, Atlanta was one of the few places in the South where both blacks and whites could dream about a better life.
  • King’s father taught him to talk back to whites. One day when the two of them were walking in the street, a policeman called King’s father “boy.” His father turned to the policeman, pointed at his son and said “No, that’s a boy.”
  • Martin Luther King Jr. was smart but didn’t get good grades in school. Even in college, King preferred going parties and dances instead of doing homework.
  • King worried about what white people thought of him. When he decided to attend a seminary in the North, King had white classmates. King admitted that “I was well aware of the typical white stereotype, and for a while I was terribly conscious of trying to avoid identification with it.” The stereotype said that blacks were lazy, stupid, and unclean. At the seminary King’s grades improved and he dressed well. Some people said he was vain.
  • Though he was ahead of his time in other ways, King thought a woman’s place was in the home. When he met his future wife Coretta Scott at school, he made it clear that he wanted her to raise their kids and keep house even though she was smart and politically active in college.

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