THE NAME THAT HAS GRACED STREET SIGNS, PARKS, MUSEUMS, AND SCHOLARSHIP FUNDS- DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
He is known as one of the widely recognized men in history. He is known as one of the most important figures in African American history. This month, we celebrate his birthday and his legacy.
He is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Despite being a recognized historical figure, King is largely an enigma beyond his documented accomplishments. Beyond his education and heritage, there are interesting facts that are largely ignored or overlooked.
Starting with the origin of his name.
The name that has graced street signs, parks, museums, and scholarship funds, was not his original birth name. Born Michael King Jr. on January 15th, 1929, the slain 39-year-old activist had his name changed at the age of 5.
Huffington Post writer Antonia Blumberg writes in her 2017 article “How Martin Luther King Jr. Got His Name”, that the origin of King’s name change goes back to his father Rev Martin Luther King Sr., then known as Michael King Sr., taking a trip to Europe. Referencing author Taylor Branch’s book Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, Blumberg writes, “King Sr. joined a group of Baptist ministers on a tour of the Holy Land with stops in Europe. The trip culminated in a weeklong Baptist World Alliance conference in Berlin, during which the reverend visited many of the historical religious sites in the same land where Martin Luther defied the Catholic Church centuries earlier”.
Martin Luther was a German Catholic priest in the 16th century that went as far as to challenge the Catholic church with his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, later known as the “Ninety-Five Theses”. This action made Martin Luther something of a pariah and began what many theologians has argued as the “Reformation”. Luther’s teachings ushered in a new teaching of faith called Lutheranism. Martin Luther eventually died while still being excommunicated from the church.
King Sr. returned to the United States inspired that he decided to change he and his son’s names to honor Martin Luther. What was it about Luther’s legacy that made King Sr. want to bestow this name on him and his son?
The correlation between Martin Luther and King Jr’s eventual legacy as a reformist himself speaks to the notion that those who play by the rules rarely make history. King during his time believed that people of different colors could live together and thrive together and went as far as going to jail, march on ‘Bloody Sunday’, and eventually die for his beliefs.