8 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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When King was 15, and again when he was 18, he worked summers harvesting tobacco in Simsbury, Connecticut, not far from Hartford. His experience as a middle-class son of a prominent black family from Atlanta's prosperous "Sweet" Auburn Avenue performing menial labor in Yankee territory helped shape his future. "On our way here we saw some things I had never anticipated to see,” he wrote his father in astonishment. “After we passed Washington there was no discrimination at all. The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit anywhere we want to.” In a correspondence to his mother, he continued the theme, “I never thought that a person of my race could eat anywhere but we ate in one of the finest restaurants in Hartford. And we went to the largest shows there.”
The teenage King was equally moved that there were racially integrated church services in Simsbury. More than a decade later he would famously say, "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." The fact that King could not enjoy such freedoms in most of his native Deep South inspired him to become a man of the cloth. When King applied to Crozer Theological Seminary in 1951, he stated that after a second summer exposure to Northern racial tolerance, "I felt an inescapable urge to serve society. In short, I felt a sense of responsibility which I could not escape.”
4. King was not the first black American leader to adopt Gandhian principles.
Dr. King was not the first black leader to tour India and be influenced by the nonviolent teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. He was preceded by James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Farmer, in turn, learned of Gandhi from Howard University theologian and educator Dr. Howard Thurman. Thurman had met Gandhi, and asked the Mahatma how his ideals might be implemented in the U.S. Gandhi responded that he wished nonviolent resistance as a strategy for social change had more of a global footing. Perhaps, he suggested to the theologian, black Americans could employ the tactic.
In addition, Howard U.'s first black president, Dr. Mordecai Johnson, had visited India, and was impressed by Gandhi's concept of satyagraha, or passive resistance. While at Crozer Seminary, King had attended a lecture by Johnson, who lectured about Gandhi. While the address had a lasting influence on King, the threat of violence and terrorism inherent in the struggle for racial equality in the 1950s were such that it took years before he could fully embrace Gandhi's tenets and strategies as applicable or even practical for black Americans. In February and March of 1959, Dr. King and Coretta toured India. Upon landing, King told the gathered media, "To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim."
5. Dr. King applied for a gun permit to protect his family.
In the mid-1950s, King was not yet committed to the principle of passive resistance. He applied for a firearms permit during a period when his home and several Montgomery churches were bombed. He was more concerned family man than pacifist. It was not until later, according to King's own writings, that he decided he could not advocate nonviolent resistance while resorting to armed self-defense. There was also the issue of gun ownership vis-a-vis his faith in God to protect himself and his family, or his persecuted race as a whole. One civil rights colleague, Glenn Smiley, described King's home as "an arsenal," something that those who wave the Second Amendment in the face of black progressives are quick to seize on. However, the weapons were not King's, as Alabama refused his application for a permit. They belonged to aides de camp. While colleagues like Charlie Evers (brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers), and North Carolina activist Robert Williams (author of the controversial 1962 book Negroes With Guns) were committed gun owners, King's interest was a temporary reaction to a terrorist attack on the home where his newborn first child Yolanda slept.
6. King had the Occupy idea 45 years ago.