Martin Luther King, name, Michael King

Did You Know? Martin Luther King Jr. Was Born Michael King: The Surprising Origins Of A Civil Rights Icon’s Name

A trip to Germany changed Martin Luther King's life.

Have you heard of Michael King? This Nobel Peace Prize winner was a renowned theologian, author, civil rights activist and has been lauded as one of the greatest orators of the 20th century. But you may know him as Martin Luther King. 

That’s right, the famous civil rights leader was born Michael King, Jr. When he was 5 years old, his father, Michael King Sr., changed their names.

In the 16th century, a German Theologian named Martin Luther (1483-1546) challenged the ideologies of Catholicism and spearheaded the Protestant Reformation. He went on to found the Protestant church. 

It’s likely that King Sr., a Baptist minister, learned more about Martin Luther’s story when he visited Germany in 1934. 

“It was a big deal for him to go there, to the birthplace of Protestantism,” Clayborne Carson, editor of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., told The Washington Post

“That probably implanted the idea of changing his name to Martin Luther King,” he continued.

Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr., who plays the civil rights activist in the new series Genius: MLK/X, expressed his surprise about the name change in an interview with People.

“I couldn’t believe his name was Michael. Was anybody else shocked by that? I mean, that was pretty cool,” he said. 

Harrison went to reflect on what it may have meant for King, Jr. to be renamed after the religious leader.

“I thought it was such a pivotal moment in his life that most of us would never have to encounter,” he noted. 

Genius: MLK/X is the fourth installment of National Geographic’s docudrama series that depicts the lives of historical figures. The eight-episode series covers the formative years of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. 

The series premiered Feb. 1 on National Geographic.

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