The Doctor

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Today we celebrate the life of famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. It is well known that he was an inspirational speaker, a religious man, and an advocate of peaceful change. But here are some lesser-known facts about Dr. King.

Pop quiz: why does Martin Luther King Jr. have the title of “Doctor”? In 1955, he received a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University. Interestingly, it was later discovered that whole passages of his doctoral dissertation were taken from other sources without correct citation. While it is mostly believed that this could not have been done in ignorance, it was agreed that the paper was still an important contribution to scholarship and his degree was not revoked. Instead, a letter has been attached to the dissertation in the Boston University library, letting its readers know that portions are not properly cited.

His name was originally Michael King, just like his old man. Michael King Sr. had his name changed, after a trip to Germany in 1931, to Martin Luther King in honor of the leader of the Protestant Reformation. At some point in Michael King Jr.’s youth, his father decided that he also should go by the name of Martin Luther, and thus he became Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1964, at age 34, Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize. He is still the youngest male recipient of the award, although the position of youngest ever to win the prize is now held by Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, who won the prize in 2011 when she was just 32.

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Any Star Trek fans on Fold3? Actress Nichelle Nichols has stated that Martin Luther King Jr. helped convince her to stay on the show as Uhura. He told her not to leave the show (as she thought she might after the first season) because not only was Uhura a black person and a main character, she was also represented as an intelligent crew member and equal to those around her rather than in the usual stereotypical role. Her character on Star Trek would influence many fans. One of these was Whoopi Goldberg, who says she saw Uhura on the show and yelled, “Momma! There’s a black lady on TV, and she ain’t no maid!” She became a huge fan of Star Trek and later asked for a role on the show. Also inspired by Uhura was astronaut Ronald McNair. His brother said of him:

“Now, Star Trek showed the future where there were black folk and white folk working together. I just looked at it as science fiction, ’cause that wasn’t going to happen, really. But Ronald saw it as science possibility…Ron was one who didn’t accept societal norms as being his norm, you know? That was for other people. And he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise.”

Today there are over 700 U.S. streets that are named after Martin Luther King Jr., in addition to countless schools and other buildings.

And finally, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one of only three U.S. holidays to celebrate a single person; the others are Columbus Day and George Washington’s birthday (President’s Day).

There are countless other interesting facts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which you can learn about on his Fold3 page (created by gorgeriverman) as well as on other sites here, here, here, here and here.