4 myths and 4 fascinating facts about MLK

By CNN Staff

Published January 18, 2021

Matthew Lewis/The Washington Post

As we remember Martin Luther King Jr., it could be easy to fall prey to spreading myths about the civil rights leader.


So you don't fall victim, here are four of the most persistent misconceptions about MLK and four fascinating facts you should know to give you insight into who he really was.


Myth #1: He grew more radical in his last years

Here's the standard take on King's evolution: He grew more radical in the last three years of his life as he turned against the Vietnam War and focused on poverty.

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But that take is wrong. In fact, King was radical much earlier than people realize, some King scholars say.

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Another rumor: Some say he was abandoning nonviolence. When organizing a "Poor People's Campaign" before he died, King was considering tactics such as directing demonstrators to stop traffic and chain themselves to pillars, a King historian told CNN. King’s tactics evolved, becoming more confrontational, but he didn't give up on his core belief.

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Myth #2: He was a Republican

Another false claim. Actually, King’s father for a long time was a Republican -- as many black people were in the early to mid-20th century when it was the party of Abraham Lincoln.

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Myth #3: King opposed affirmative action

Conservatives cite parts of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech as evidence that he opposed affirmative action.

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Although King never used that term, he supported the concept. In his book "Where Do We Go from Here," King wrote that a "society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro."

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Myth #4: He was a solemn, serious dude

In the history books, King comes off as the stuffy preacher. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

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"He was the comedian of the civil rights movement," the Rev. Lewis Baldwin, a MLK historian, told CNN.

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Fact #1: His first name isn't Martin

His birth name is Michael Luther King Jr. And despite the federal holiday being celebrated on the third Monday in January, his actual birth date is January 15.

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Fact #2: He was Man of the Year

King was the first African-American to be bestowed Time magazine's honor in 1963.

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Fact #3: King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964

At 35, he was the youngest person, at the time, to receive the award.

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Fact #4: The assassination wasn't the first attack

In 1956, his house was bombed while he was at a meeting. Then in 1958, nearly a decade before his assassination, King was stabbed in the chest, according to

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