Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most important figures in American history, but only a relatively small circle of people really knew him. Among them was the now-86-year-old Lerone Bennett, Jr., who attended Morehouse College with King in the 1940s. Bennett, who later became an author, journalist and historian, appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 1989 along with several other of King's close friends and opened up about what the civil rights leader was like before the rest of the world knew his name.
"I was a freshman. M.L., as we called him then, was a sophomore. He was an upperclassman, he didn't talk to freshman back then," Bennett joked on "The Oprah Show."
Soon enough, the two became friends. Though he mentioned that King was, of course, a serious and brilliant student, Bennett also said that his friend had a more playful side that the public never truly saw.
"He was a lot of fun! He wore a great big, big-apple hat and draped pants," Bennett said. "He was, in short, not the M.L. -- the Martin -- of history."
This comment prompted Oprah to share a conversation she'd had with Maya Angelou about why it was so important to hear these lesser-known personal stories about great and prominent figures. "[Maya] was saying that oftentimes in history, we take heroes and we make them totally unreal to the children," Oprah said. "She said one of the wonderful things about Dr. King was his sense of humor. And nobody ever talks about his sense of humor. So I'm glad to know he wore the big-apple hat!"
"He had a great sense of humor," Bennett nods.
So, was it obvious to friends back then that this fun, brilliant man would become somebody of great importance? Yes and no...
"It was obvious that he was going to become a successful person. People who attend that school with M.L. will often ask, 'Did you know then that he was going to turn the world upside down?'" Bennett says. "There's an official answer to that, and there's the truth. The official answer is, 'Yes, of course we knew. Who do you think we were? Fools?' The real answer is that we did not know then that he was going to turn the world upside down.
"The moral I draw from that is, I think, the best of all," Bennett continues. "And that [is this]: There's no way to tell about the mystery of the human personality. And that the next Martin Luther King, Jr., he or she may be sitting next to you."
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