Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Essay

The outstanding people are not easy to compare, especially if we talk about the people from the past whose lives, acts and motives have been minced through the subjective opinions of pro and contra witnesses. Still, there are works and speeches of those whose point of view have changed the world we live in. Let us try to look into their motives and ideas and see how the two prominent advocates of the American black citizens’ rights have influenced the political upheavals of the 1960s.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X had a different social background in terms of the formation of their life principles towards the injustice of the world. They have certainly both faced the racial oppression from the early lives, but Malcolm, who had later become more radical in his ideas of fighting the racism, had certainly suffered more from the childhood. According to his autobiography, one of Malcolm’s father’s uncles had been lynched, and also Earl Little had lost three brothers due to the violence of white men [7].

These facts might have influenced Malcolm’s father life and his choice to become the member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and a Baptist lay speaker. The family had faced multiple threats by Ku Klux Klansmen and had to move from place to place, until Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was, Malcolm’s father was found dead, having been run over by a streetcar (the death was ruled to be a suicide, but rumored to be a murder, performed by the members of the Black Legion). Malcolm’s mother did not receive the financial support for one of her husband’s insurance policies and soon had a nervous breakdown. All her children had to stay at foster homes, including young Malcolm, whose young adult years were full of antisocial behavior including drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, etc [1].

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a far better early life from the perspective of the “social location”. His childhood and young adult years were relatively more stable and successful in social terms. His father, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. was a Baptist minister. This shows some resemblance with Malcolm X’s father’s career. Martin and Malcolm were both good at school, but King’s further accomplishments were traced at the Morehouse College and Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, while Malcolm’s activities were mostly inspired by the jungle rules of the New York and Boston streets.

While serving his sentence at the Massachusetts State Prison, Malcolm Little has read numerous books, which have influenced the development of his political and Islamic religious views. He was often considered insane and Malcolm earned the nickname of “Satan” for his hatred towards the Bible, God and religion in general [5]. In 1951, Martin Luther King has graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree.

In 1952, after Malcolm Little was released from the prison, he had finally become Malcolm X and the minister of the Nation of Islam’s Temples. He is believed to have made great impact upon the rapid growth of the organization’s membership in 1950s and was considered the second most influential leader of the movement, after Elijah Muhammad, one of the organization’s founding members. The movement followers referred to whites as “devils” who had been created in a misguided breeding program by a black scientist, Jakub. Following the writings of the Nation of Islam leaders, Malcolm X predicted the inevitable return of blacks to their natural place at the top of the human society.

The principle differences in the approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. can be seen from the ideas they have revealed during the public speeches.

King has advocated the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience used successfully in India in their fight for independence. During his visit to Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, King stated:

Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. [8]

As if opposed to King, Malcolm X stated on June 28, 1964:

The time for you and me to allow ourselves to be brutalized nonviolently has passed. Be nonviolent only with those who are nonviolent to you. And when you can bring me a nonviolent racist, bring me a nonviolent segregationist, and then I’ll get nonviolent. But don’t teach me to be nonviolent until you teach some of those crackers to be nonviolent. [3]

He also did not support the March on Washington, one of the Martin Luther King’s major non-violent activities. Malcolm X called it the “Farce on Washington,” claiming he didn’t know why black people were excited over a demonstration “run by whites in front of a statue of a president who has been dead for a hundred years and who didn’t like us when he was alive.” Malcolm was a sharp critic, and his eloquent “attacks” were often difficult to handle.

The two leaders have met on March 26, 1964. Less than a year remained till Malcolm’s assassination. King would be killed five years later. Notably, the two political leaders were both killed at the age of 39.

It is notable that the ideas of both King and X had changed towards the end of their lives. After separating with the Nation of Islam, in an interview with Gordon Parks in 1965, Malcolm claimed:

I realized racism isn’t just a black and white problem. It’s brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another. Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant — the one who wanted to help the Muslims and the whites get together — and I told her there wasn’t a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then — like all [black] Muslims — I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years. That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days — I’m glad to be free of them. [6]

Martin Luther King, Jr. has also found himself standing alone, unsupported by other civil rights movement leaders, as he has offered opinion of the United States’ role in the Vietnam War, calling the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”. He also began understanding the injustice in broader terms, referring to the world’s ratio of wealth and poverty.

King began to speak of the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of the nation, and in private he sometimes spoke of his support for democratic socialism, though he has never expressed this opinion publicly.

King frequently opposed to the war and saw the proper way of changing racial and economic injustice though the redistribution of resources. He underlined that racism, poverty, militarism and materialism were the core of social injustice in the world. His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

After Malcolm’s death, Martin Luther King, Jr. commented:

While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and the root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems we face as a race. [4]

Despite the obvious initial differences in views at the beginning of the political activities, Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X have both changed their ideas of the improvement: the latter realized certain methods he used in early life were unacceptable, while the former has become more radical in his views. The extremes always tend to harmony, towards the mild average. The ideas of the two prominent leaders of the movement for the rights of the racially oppressed people also did in the course of their short but bright lives.
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Chronology of the Life and Activities of Malcolm X, Malcolm X: A Research Site. Retrieved on Dec, 9, 2007, from
Garrow, David J. The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Penguin Books, 1981
Malcolm X, Excerpts from OAAU Founding Rally Retrieved on Dec, 11, 2007, from
Martin Luther King, Jr., Telegram to Betty Shabazz, February 26, 1965. Retrieved on Dec, 11, 2007, from
Mass Moments: Malcolm X Imprisoned, February 27, 1946. Retrieved on Dec, 10, 2007, from
Parks, Gordon. The White Devil’s Day is Almost Over. Life, May 31, 1963.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X. With the assistance of Alex Haley. New York: Grove Press, 1965.
The Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute, King Encyclopedia Retrieved on Dec, 11, 2007, from

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