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Martin Luther King Jr. - Lesser Known Stories

Two of the lesser-known aspects of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy are his support for Latinos and his anti-nuclear activism. King visited Puerto Rico three times in the 1960s, urging local communities to fight the stigmatization of people of color. Since 1958, he was an active member of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), which is the key reason behind his popularity in Hiroshima. "Poor People's Campaign" is an additional example of his lesser-known project. The ambitious interracial initiative, which focused on the rights of the poor, was announced in 1967 and continued by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after his death.

To choose the above stories, I analyzed several timelines of King's life and work, as well as the University of Stanford's King Institute encyclopedia. After identifying various lesser-known projects, I found direct statements that confirm that they are relatively unknown and verified that there are very few articles or research papers that cover them, compared to the coverage of his other projects.


Martin Luther King Jr. visited Puerto Rico three times between 1962 and 1965. According to Latino Rebels, an organization that fights injustice toward Latinos, very little has been published about those visits in English sources. However, as reported by Al Dia, he spent his time there inspiring local communities, especially student groups, to stand up against stigmatization of people of color. He gave inspiring speeches at the Interamerican University in San Germán and the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedra. You can read one of his speeches here. People who met with King, including the baseball legend Roberto Clemente, considered it a profound and inspiring experience.

Furthermore, Martin Luther King Jr. was a vocal supporter of César Chávez, the Latino American civil right activist. He repeatedly expressed his support for Chávez's hunger strikes. Additionally, before the March on Washington, he asked Gilberto Gerena Valentín, the president of Puerto Rico at the time, to organize Latino Americans living in New York and several other states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts). King also invited Gerena to give a speech in Spanish at the protest, thus giving him a chance to express that not only Afro Americans, but also Puerto Ricans and Hispanics are stigmatized. He also invited Latino Americans to Poor People's Campaign, which I will describe in detail below.

While Latino American media note that Latino rights weren't King's main area of focus, they agree that he had a significant influence on their civil rights movements. Since according to my research, it's the least known aspect of King's legacy, there aren't many photos available. There's one photo of him giving a speech in Puerto Rico in 1962 and a photo of Gerena during the March on Washington. To supplement it, I found an article that provides several photos of Latino folk art inspired by King, which show his importance for Latino American communities.


According to Atlas Obscura, anti-nuclear activism is "one of the lesser-known parts of Martin Luther King's legacy." However, as highlighted by a historian Patrick Parr, among others, his impact on this area can be observed to this day in Hiroshima.

King was convinced that nuclear tests should be suspended, as such weapons are "a danger unlike any danger that has ever existed.’’ He joined the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) in 1958. SANE, the leading voice in the discussion about disarmament, called itself "the mass member organization," with tens of thousands of members. King actively supported its projects by sponsoring and signing statements, letters, petitions, and advertisements. After his death, Coretta Scott King, his wife, continued to work with SANE, eventually taking a sit on its advisory council.

Also, in 1967, King wrote a letter to the "People of Japan," in which he warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons. He felt that those who witnessed the horrors of war would be able to understand his concerns and promised to visit Japan as soon as his schedule allowed for it. While his death stopped him from fulfilling his promise, decades later, his disarmament ideas were shared with the Japanese society. Inspired by King, Tadatoshi Akiba, mayor of Hiroshima, pushed through a number of disarmament resolutions in the early 2000s. To this day, Hiroshima is one of the few places outside the U.S. that celebrates Martin Luther King's Day.

Again, there aren't many photos or videos. However, here you can find a scan of one of the SANE's statements, published by The King Center. The organization also provides a scan of the Letter to the People of Japan. There's also a photo of Akiba giving a speech during Martin Luther King's Day in Hiroshima. Additionally, I discovered a rare King's speech on war which mentions the dangers of nuclear weapons [25:25, 28:24, 33:30]. However, it isn't specifically about this aspect of war.

Poor People's Campaign

According to several sources, including Fox 2 and a non-profit organization Interfaith Youth Core, King's advocacy for the poor is a lesser-known part of his legacy. However, it was a significant element of his activism, as he believed that interracial economic stability is fundamental to social justice.

King announced one of his main initiatives in this area, "Poor People's Campaign," as a part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967. He planned to draw the attention to inequality and poverty with a large demonstration in Washington, with people demanding fair wages, unemployment insurance, and education for the poorest. It was planned for 1968. While he was assassinated before he could finish the project, SCLC decided to carry on with it, despite some members seeing it as too ambitious and ambiguous. According to the Stanford University's database, demonstrations "succeeded in small ways, such as qualifying 200 counties for free surplus food distribution, and securing promises from several federal agencies to hire poor people."

Photos related to the project: 1, 2, 3, 4
Videos related to the campaign: 1, 2


In conclusion, some of the lesser-known initiatives that Martin Luther King Jr. worked on include his support for the Latinos, particularly his visits and speeches in Puerto Rico in the 1960s, and his anti-nuclear activism as a member of The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. Additionally, shortly before his death, he announced the "Poor People's Campaign," a lesser-known initiative to bring attention to economic inequality and poverty, which was continued by SCLC after his assassination.