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Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X


Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X grew up in different
environments. King was raised in a comfortable middle-class
family where education was stressed. On the other hand,
Malcolm X came from and underprivileged home. He was a
self-taught man who received little schooling and rose to
greatness on his own intelligence and determination. Martin
Luther King was born into a family whose name in Atlanta
was well established. Despite segregation, Martin Luther
King's parents ensured that their child was secure and
Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925 and was raised in a
completely different atmosphere than King, an atmosphere of
fear and anger where the seeds of bitterness were planted.
The burning of his house by the Klu Klux Klan resulted in
the murder of his father. His mother later suffered a
nervous breakdown and his family was split up. He was
haunted by this early nightmare for most of his life. From
then on, he was driven by hatred and a desire for revenge.
The early backgrounds of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King
were largely responsible for the distinct different
responses to American racism. Both men ultimately became
towering icons of contemporary African-American culture and
had a great influence on black Americans. However, King had
a more positive attitude than Malcolm X, believing that
through peaceful demonstrations and arguments, blacks will
be able to someday achieve full equality with whites.
Malcolm X's despair about life was reflected in his angry,
pessimistic belief that equality is impossible because
whites have no moral conscience. King basically adopted on
an integrationalist philosophy, whereby he felt that blacks
and whites should be united and live together in peace.
Malcolm X, however, promoted nationalist and separatist
doctrines. For most of his life, he believed that only
through revolution and force could blacks attain their
rightful place in society.
Both X and King spread their message through powerful,
hard-hitting speeches. Nevertheless, their intentions were
delivered in different styles and purposes.
"King was basically a peaceful leader who urged
non-violence to his followers. He travelled about the
country giving speeches that inspired black and white
listeners to work together for racial harmony." (pg. 135,
Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Movement)
Malcolm X, for the most part, believed that non-violence
and integration was a trick by the whites to keep blacks in
their places. He was furious at white racism and encouraged
his followers through his speeches to rise up and protest
against their white enemies. After Malcolm X broke away
from Elijah Mohammed, this change is reflected in his more
moderate speeches.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King's childhoods had powerful
influences on the men and their speeches. Malcolm X was
brought up in an atmosphere of violence. During his
childhood, Malcolm X suffered not only from abuse by
whites, but also from domestic violence. His father beat
his mother and both of them abused their children. His
mother was forced to raise eight children during the
depression. After his mother had a mental breakdown, the
children were all placed in foster homes. Malcolm X's
resentment was increased as he suffered through the ravages
of integrated schooling. Although an intelligent student
who shared the dream of being a lawyer with Martin Luther
King, Malcolm X's anger and disillusionment caused him to
drop out of school. He started to use cocaine and set up a
burglary ring to support his expensive habit. Malcolm X's
hostility and promotion of violence as a way of getting
change was well established in his childhood.
Martin Luther King lived in an entirely different
environment. He was a smart student and skipped two grades
before entering an ivy league college at only the age of
15. He was the class valedictorian with an A average. King
paraded his graduation present in a new green Chevrolet
before his fellow graduates. He was raised in the perfect
environment where dreams and love were generated. King and
X's childhoods are "a study in polarity." (pg. 254,
Reflecting Black)
Whereas, Malcolm X was raised in nightmarish conditions.
King's home was almost dream-like. He was raised in a
comfortable middle-class home where strong values natured
his sense of self-worth.
Sure, many have admired Malcolm X and Martin Luther King
for the way that they preached. "Both King and Malcolm X
promoted self-knowledge and respect for one's history and
culture as the basis for unity." (pg. 253, Reflecting
Black.) Other than the fact that they were similar in some
ways, they also had many differences that people admired,
both in belief and speech.
Malcolm X, in many ways, was known to many as an extremist.
For most of the time that he spent as an Islamic minister,
he preached about separatism between blacks and whites. He
also preached about black nationalism, and as some would
call it, "black supremacy," (reporter from Malcolm X movie).
Malcolm X had been misled all through his life. This can be
shown especially at the time when he broke away from the
black Muslim party, because he realised that they were
misleading him by telling him that separatism between
blacks and whites is the only way to go. They also misled
him by telling him that separatism is a part of the Islamic
religion. Malcolm X's life was known to many as a nightmare
because he was abused and haunted by both blacks and
whites. Malcolm X blamed many of the conditions that blacks
in the United States lived in on the whites. He also talked
about how the white man still sees the black man as a slave.
Martin Luther King appeared to many as calm and idealistic.
Many say his calmness came from his peaceful, middle-class
life. For instance, King preached about equality for blacks
and whites. He also preached about getting this equality
through a non-violent way. King's popularity was more than
any other black leader's popularity.
"King urged blacks to win their rightful place in society
by gaining self-respect, high moral standards, hard work
and leadership. He also urged blacks to do this in a
non-violent matter," (pg. 255, Reflecting Black)
The difference is in Malcolm X and Martin Luther King's
backgrounds had a direct influence on their later
viewpoints. As a black youth, Malcolm X was rebellious and
angry. He blamed the poor social conditions that blacks
lived in on the whites. "His past ghetto life prepared him
to reject non-violence and integration and to accept a
strong separatist philosophy as the basis for black
survival," (Internet, Malcolm X anniversary).
He even believed at one time that whites were agents of the
devil. As a result, "Malcolm X recommended a separatist and
nationalist strategy for black survival," (pg. 57, Malcolm
X: The man and his times)
He believed that only through violence would conditions
change. He saw no evidence that white society had any moral
conscience and promoted the role of the angry black against
racist America.
King's philosophies presented a sharp contrast to those of
Malcolm X. He believed that through hard work, strong
leadership, and non-violent tactics, blacks could achieve
full equality with whites. His belief in non-violence even
extended to a woman who nearly killed him. He was reported
as saying, "don't persecute her, get her healed," (pg. 52,
Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Movement).
Near the end of their lives, Martin Luther King and Malcolm
X's beliefs became more similar. Malcolm X corrected
himself after his break with the black Muslim movement. He
now emphasised unity and change through black pride and
respect for oneself rather than through hate and revenge.
King, on the other hand, became somewhat angry at the lack
of progress made on equality. He started promoting
non-violent sabotage, which including blocking the normal
functioning of government. At one time, Malcolm X actually
wanted "to join forces with King and the progressive
elements of the Civil Rights Movement," (pg. 262, Malcolm
X: The man and his times).
To many, King and Malcolm X were heroes of the Civil Rights
Movement. However, many have also seen that King was more
pessimistic, while Malcolm X was more optimistic about
separatism for most of his life. Some have said that later
on in their lives, they had taken the opposite roles and
The speeches of King and X reflected both men's visions on
improving America. Both men believed that if blacks were to
attain freedom, they first needed to achieve self-respect.
However, Malcolm X's speeches were delivered in a
revolutionary tone which could incite his listeners to
hatred of white America. Malcolm X used direct and to the
point language which could be understood by all levels of
society. "He had mastery in language and could project his
ideas," (Internet, Remember Malcolm X)
This creativity in language helped build the Black Muslim
Movement in the United States. In his "Definition of a
Revolution" speech, delivered in November 1963, Malcolm X
openly justifies violence as a way of gaining equality.
"And if it is right for America to draft us and teach us
how to be violent in defence of the country, then isn't it
right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend
our own people right here in this country," (pg. 253,
Malcolm X: The man and his times).
He encouraged blacks to hate white America and to revolt
against them. "Revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile,
revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and
destroys everything that gets in its way," (pg. 255,
Malcolm X: The man and his times).
In his speech "God's Judgement of White America", delivered
on December 1, 1963, Malcolm X again promoted his
separatist philosophy. "America must set aside some
separate territory here in the Western Hemisphere where the
two races can live apart from each other, since we
certainly don't get along peacefully while we are here
together," (pg. 287, Malcolm X: The man and his times)
After Malcolm X's pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, he
reappraised white America and modified somewhat his racist
and anti-white beliefs. This change is reflected in his
"Communication and Reality" spoken to the American Domestic
Peace Corps.
"I am against any form of racism. We are all against
racism. I believe in Allah. I believe in the brotherhood of
man, all men, but I do not believe in the brotherhood with
anybody who does not want brotherhood with me," (pg. 289,
Malcolm X: The man and his times)
Martin Luther King was an equally strong speaker. However,
most of his speeches were given to encourage white and
black people to work together for racial harmony. He
especially wanted to teach impressionable black youth that
equality could be gained through non-violent methods. These
ideals are reflected in his famous "I have a dream" speech,
where King addressed to over 250 000 people. In this
speech, King urges black people to never forget their
dreams. King preaches that in the eyes of God, the blacks
are as good as any other race and should be treated as
"I have a dream that one day every valley will be exalted,
every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places
shall be made plain, and the crooked places shall be made
straight, and the glory of the lord shall be revealed, and
all shall see it together," ( Internet, Martin Luther
King's I Have a Dream speech)
Unlike Malcolm X, King does not incite his followers to
riot and hate, but encourages his followers to remember
that all people are God's children and that hopefully one
day all American can join together to sing "My country tis
of thee, Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing..."
King's eventual disillusionment became because of the lack
of success the blacks were making in America. This
discomfort is reflected in his "A time to break the
silence" speech. In this speech, he openly condemns
American involvement in the Vietnam war. He preaches that
America should solve its own racial and social problems
before sending vulnerable young men, especially black men,
to fight other country's battles.
"So we have been respectfully forced with the cruel irony
of watching Negroes and white boys on TV screens as they
kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to
sit them together in the same schools," (Internet, A time
to break the silence speech)
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are both remembered as
leaders who fought for a difference in black America. Both
tried to bring hope to blacks in the United States. They
also tried to instil within blacks power and strength so
they could rise above all the hatred that surrounded them,
but both of them had very different ways of promoting their
message. Malcolm X had a much more extremist approach. Many
say that this approach came from his neglectful childhood
and early adulthood. King had a much more calm approach.
Some have said that this non-violent approach came from his
safe, middle-class environment. Even though they were
different in addressing their messages about black respect
and pride, they both had the same goal in mind. That goal
was to achieve equality between all races. 


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