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8 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Although King is one of U.S. history's most widely chronicled individuals, there are aspects of his life that are less well-known.

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King's last great campaign sought to bring activists and impoverished Americans of various ethnicities, including Appalachians, Native Americans, Chicano migrant workers and Southern blacks, to Washington to live in tented camps on the National Mall. The Poor People's Campaign was an ambitous effort to draw attention to the issue of poverty in 1968, a presidential election year, by bringing the people to DC in mule drawn carriages. The tented villages were called Resurrection City, and because of the time and energy the initiative occupied, King was hesitant to make personal visits to Memphis to champion the striking, predominantly black sanitation workers there. Setbacks in the Poor People's Campaign also contributed to some degree of depression and disillusionment for King, who was advocating for America's poorest citizens in an atmosphere of federal budgets for both the Vietnam War and a manned mission to the moon.
 
Though King's assassination in April 1968 derailed much of the momentum and sympathy for the Poor People's Campaign, in the wake of his death, 3,000 citizens did live in tents alongside the National Mall for six weeks -- a period unfortunately marked by rain-soaked muddy days, organizational bickering about King's vision and its application, and physical eviction and hundreds of arrests when the squatters' National Park Service permit expired in late June of '68. When Occupy protestors began camping in Washington, DC's Freedom Plaza in fall of 2011, few knew to what literal extent they were following in King's footsteps.
 
7. King attempted suicide as a young boy.

When King was 12, he attended a parade against his parents' wishes. His maternal grandmother suffered a fatal heart attack that day. King blamed himself for her death, because his six-year old little brother A.D., whom he was supposed to be home watching, accidentally knocked their grandmother unconscious while sliding down a bannister. Young Martin did not know the unconsciousness was unrelated to the heart attack. Associating his absence with the tragic turn of events, Martin attempted suicide by jumping from a second-story window in his family home. His father later reported that the boy was distraught for days, unable to sleep.

This sense of melancholy, while perfectly understandable, and a sign of his love for his grandmother, presaged the bouts of depression King experienced over philosophical divisions within the Civil Rights Movement (i.e. militants vs. nonviolent activists), and the challenges of the Poor People's Campaign. Of his grandmother's death, King said, "It was after this incident for the first time that I talked at any length on the doctrine of immortality. My parents attempted to explain it to me and I was assured that my grandmother stil lived." On the eve of his own death, King preached, "Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you."

8. King left his family in dire straits.

MLK Jr. died not only without financial assets, but without a will. Despite his widely known premonitions concerning his own early demise (most noteworthy in speeches such as "If I Had Sneezed," and his final speech in Memphis the night before he was slain), King died intestate. Although his wife Coretta had admonished him for years to set some funds aside for the higher education of their four children, King left his family with no appreciable benefits from his five books, hundreds of speaking engagements, his ministry, and of most concern to his wife, the $54,600 he earned as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. While Mrs. King thought some of the award money should be invested for the children's sake, her husband donated the funds to the movement.