Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A History in Rumor

The famed civil rights crusader has been the focus of many rumors and fake news pieces over the years. Here's our collection of some of them.

  • Published

Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929, dedicated his life to achieving equality and justice for all Americans. Believing that a peaceful refusal to obey unjust laws was the best way to bring combat racism and bring about social change. During his memorable but too short lifetime, Dr. King pressed the case of civil rights with the White House, touched millions of Americans with his unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech, and won the Nobel Peace Prize, on his way to leaving behind an ongoing legacy of hope and inspiration.


As one of the more prominent personages of his time, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a much-photographed subject. And in the modern era, that also makes him the subject of many digitally altered photographs as well.

Dr. King with Malcolm X and Barack Obama? A little problem with chronology there:

Did Barack Obama Meet with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

An attempt to turn a gesture for peace into something vulgar:

Did Martin Luther King Jr. ‘Flip the Bird’ at a Photographer?

2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was active in the 1960s civil rights movement, but he didn’t march with Dr. King in Selma:

Bernie Sanders Marched with MLK at Selma?

Unfortunately, some who sought to celebrate Martin Luther King Day didn’t proofread their signs thoroughly:

Misspelled Martin Luther King Day Signs

Others attempting to honor Dr. King made some embarrassing goofs on signage as well:

James Earl Jones vs. James Earl Ray Mix-Up


Dr. King made many memorable speeches. And other people have put words he never said in his mouth to make them more poignant.

A hauntingly powerful statement offered up every Martin Luther King Day as Dr. King’s expression of the responsibility we all bear for justice is, at best, a paraphrase of a much more complex passage from one of his speeches:

Did MLK Say ‘Our Lives Begin to End the Day We Become Silent’?

A testament to the importance of forgiveness and mercy came from the writings of a Facebook user, not Dr. King:

Martin Luther King: ‘Do Not Rejoice in the Death of One’

Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, did write a letter opposing the confirmation of Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. Attorney General, for appointment as a federal judge

Did Coretta Scott King Criticize Jeff Sessions’ Record?


During his lifetime Dr. King drew the enmity of everyone from segregationists to the head of the FBI. Those who saw him as a danger sought to discredit him with scandalous rumors, with no regard for their truthfulness:

Four Things You Didn’t Know About Martin Luther King, Jr.


Dr. King had many enemies, both real and imagined:

A lawsuit stemming from Dr. King’s assassination was something of a farce and is not proof of that anyone other than James Earl Ray was involved in his killing:

Was the U.S. Government Found Guilty of Assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr.?

The U.S. Postal Service did not discontinue stamps featuring Dr. King over allegedly poor sales:

Martin Luther King Stamp

Despite a quickly retracted claim, President Trump did not remove a bust of Dr. King from the Oval Office:

Did Trump Remove a MLK Bust from the Oval Office?

Fake News:

Like virtually every other famous person, Dr. King’s name has been invoked multiple times by the propagators of fake news.

Leonardo DiCaprio will not be wearing blackface to portray Dr. King in a biopic film:

Leonardo DiCaprio Cast as MLK in New Film, Will Wear Blackface?

Rapper Meek Mill is not Dr. King’s grandson:

Is Rapper Meek Mill the Grandson of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Michele Bachmann did not proclaim that “If blacks had been allowed to own guns in 1960’s, Dr. King might well be alive today”:

Michele Bachmann: Martin Luther King Would Still Be Alive If Black People Owned Guns in the 1960s?