Respected in America and the rest of the world, Martin Luther King, Jr. is viewed as the frontman of the Civil Rights Movement. Although it started six decades ago and has made considerable progress since, black people still currently suffer from institutional racism.

Many remember King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. But as time has passed, society has strayed away from his ideals, and forgotten that ‘whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly’. Now more than ever, it is important to keep his dream and his memory alive, and hold those threatening to undermine it, accountable. Here are just five reasons why me must not forget one of the greatest defenders of justice and freedom:

1. King became a college student at just fifteen.

Considering he skipped not one, but two, grades (nine and twelve), it was pretty much inevitable that this child prodigy would start college early. He studied at Morehouse College, where his father and grandfather also attended. For King, it seems it wasn’t a problem to juggle a college education and continue the family legacy, all the while going through puberty. As if that wasn’t enough, by the time he graduated with a degree in sociology, he had become an ordained minister. King certainly taught the importance of education, especially in preventing ignorance.

2. He was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

When you graduate at 19, you are clearly destined for greatness. When he was 35, King was bestowed with this prestigious award because of his unwavering dedication to achieving racial equality through non-violent means. On hearing the news, he announced his decision to donate the prize money of $54,123 towards the civil rights movement. Not only did he give up money for the cause, but eventually his life as well.

3. There are over 730 streets in America named after him.

Even though he passed away more than fifty years ago, the number of streets being named after him has not ceased. In fact, the number keeps increasing every year. Interestingly, 70 per cent of these streets are in the Southern states, including Alabama and Texas (well-known to be breeding grounds for racism). There are also plenty of streets in France and Italy that bear his name — an act that ensures his civil rights legacy is also preserved outside of America.

4. There wasn’t just one assassination attempt on him.

Before he died of a gunshot wound in 1968, King was stabbed by a woman with a seven-inch letter opener. The tip of the blade was so close to his aorta that, had he sneezed, it would have killed him. Despite that, he professed he felt no ill will towards his attacker. Even inches away from death, King chose to be forgiving and good-natured — an approach society could use more of nowadays.

5. Apart from George Washington, King is the only other American whose birthday is a national holiday.

Considering how Washington was not only white, but a slave owner as well, it does speak volumes that King has this in common with America’s first president. Fifteen years after his death, President Ronald Reagan made it a federal holiday to commemorate King. Close to his birthday (15 January), Martin Luther King, Jr., Day therefore falls on the third Monday of every January.

America still has a long way to go. But keeping the memory of one of its greatest human rights’ defenders alive is surely what is needed during its darker moments.

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