Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s Prospects on Social Change: How Did They Relate and How Did They Differ?
Devoted to The Civil Rights Movement during the same geological era, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X shared similar facets in their purposes. Both were of African-American decent whom had a compelling desire to liberate oppressed people no matter the ethnicity, and thought internationally in their course of action towards liberation. Although it seems their purposes were kindred, the morals and motives behind their actions were unmistakably conflicting. Martin Luther King Jr.’s purpose was to advocate change in a strictly non-violent manner by implementing the belief of soul force overriding physical force. J. Angelo Corlett notes on an essential aspect of Martin Luther King’s belief: “If there is one thing that MLK believed absolutely and religiously, it was that true spirituality demands that violence never be used in human affairs.”(King) Overall concluding that MLK believed violence was immoral, impractical and dangerous in all instances. MLK writes:
In a nonviolent demonstration…one must remember that the cause of the demonstration is some exploitation or form of oppression that has made it necessary for men of courage and good will to demonstrate against the evil…The demonstrator agrees that it is better for him to suffer publicly for a short time to end the crippling evil of school segregation than to have generation after generation of children suffer in ignorance…It is better to shed a little blood from a blow on the head or a rock thrown by an angry mob than to have children by the thousands grow up reading at a fifth- or sixth-grade level…Furthermore, it is extremely dangerous to organize a movement around self-defense. The line between defensive violence and aggressive or retaliatory violence is a fine line indeed. When violence is tolerated even as a means of self-defense there is a grave danger that in the fervor of emotion the main fight will be lost over the question of self-defense. (King)
In his own words, he writes to reiterate his beliefs and concerns towards The Civil Rights Movements leaders and groups use of violence in human affairs. Correlating to the idea that violence only fuels the fire of oppressors rather than lifting their moral sense. He briefly reflected on the cognitive impact of violence towards children and the potential for historical and ethical ignorance in which future generations could be afflicted. By doing so, he opened up doors to questions concerning the outcome of future generations due to the social refinement during The Civil Rights era. As readers of his historic contributions, we are the future generations that MLK references. His prediction of the future for generations is logically accurate. Education systems provide prime examples of racial separation and a look into the divide between cultures that is still apparent in 2014. It is exemplified through social groups in schools which is relative to how children are being taught and raised. In order to recover our schools from social segregation, we need to implement better programs aimed at bringing everyone no matter race, size, shape or gender together. Programs that can resonate with teenagers and what they value can help to bong two separate kinds of people. MLK and MX both used these strategies in their campaigns, only their target was adults.
Martin Luther King Jr. was associated with the Non Violent Direct Action Program (NDA), which he deems a “form of resistance to oppression and injustice…powerful demand for reason and justice.”(King) The NDA does not require the breaking of any laws and does not seek to destroy groups of people or sets of beliefs. The main goal in the organization was to find an understanding and mutual friendship concerning equality of all people during this time. The organization was not aimed directly at individuals but at the “evil” prevailing in society (violence, hatred, sexism etc.).
NDA sought to expose the violence of primary segregation activists through nonviolent action protest. The organization successfully exploited the direct violence towards multicultural people from primary oppressors whom wanted nothing more but for them to be severely distanced from society. Their efforts to exploit violence made present and future generations aware of a common disconnect between human beings.
Contrary to MLK, Malcolm X viewed social change as requiring the use of violence, justified by means of self-defense or the defense of others who are endangered. He even states in several interviews and speeches: doing unto others as he would have others do to himself. Malcolm X states In the Les Crane Interview on December 2, 1964:
“Our people should start doing what is necessary to protect ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we should buy rifles and go out and initiate attacks indiscriminately against whites. But it does mean that we should get whatever is necessary to protect ourselves in a country or in an area where the governmental ability to protect us has broken down.” (X) (In the Les Crane Interview of 2 December 1964)
The government’s ability to protect people of color was a disaster from the start. From the creation of America to the point of Civil Rights, people of color (natives, Indians, African Americans) were always isolated to the confinement of the European American values and morals. The mistreatment of these individuals has been documented throughout history before the time of Civil Rights with the intent that history would not repeat itself. Powerful government officials during the times of 1955-1968 were contributing to the immoral actions placed on multicultural individuals. Unfortunately, history will always be repetitive because of individuals who still feel the need to contribute or create a similar social disconnect. By enforcing segregation and laws against the freedom of blacks and others of color, the government’s ability to protect people of color stood stagnate. Eventually, through trial and error, people started to listen and respond to the tactics of both MLK and MX. Slowly but surely, changes were made in the progress of acceptance of all in America. There are now systems provided by the government that help protect people of all culture rather than leaving out a selected few. The problem with these systems
One of Malcolm X’s prominent forces in his movement was the territoriality theory. Territoriality is based on the cultural alterations of a territory set on boundaries in which the founding people exclude those who will not enhance fixed values, and include those who will. James A. Tyner conveys the history of territoriality in connection with racism and segregation of The Civil Rights time.
“The geographies of slavery, segregation and colonialism were territorial; exclusion or inclusion was predicated on constructed notions of race. Resistance, though, to these geographies of racism have been equally territorial in scope…Malcolm X’s territoriality translated into a control of communal resources. He explained, ‘A revolutionary wants land so he can set up his own nation, an independent nation’ (Malcolm X 1965)”5
As history documents and shares realistic events to all generations, any could agree with the fact that settlers whom arrived in “The New World” were specifically looking for land to set up a nation as explained by Malcolm X. Unfortunately, racism and exclusion started early and progressed into the late 18th and modern day centuries which erupted an immense amount of questions, concerns, debate, protest and views of morality. Malcolm X understood the historical impact of territoriality on individuals negatively influenced by The Civil Rights era. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X did not strictly belong to one single civil rights group. He worked mostly alone, or with trusted colleagues during his campaigns and speeches. During one of his speeches, he pronounced his view of Martin Luther King Jr.’s enforcement of the NDA:
“If Martin Luther King was teaching white people to turn the other cheek, then I would say he was justified in teaching black people to turn the other cheek. That’s all I’m against. Make it a two-way street. Make it even Steven. If I’m going to be nonviolent, then let them be nonviolent. But as long as they’re not nonviolent, don’t you let anybody tell you anything about nonviolence. No. Be intelligent.”4
Malcolm X believed that the NDA had the right to be non-violent; similarly, to the rights of anyone who could choose to be violent or not. His view of pushing violence only if violence was received still stood as an anchor through his movement.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s contribution to Woman’s Rights Movement
Malcolm X contributed to The Woman’s Rights Movement by publicly acknowledging the gender roles of women and its similarity to oppression of African Americans. James A. Tyner quotes Malcolm X on his inspirational and heartfelt stance on supporting all women, their importance to society, and their contributions made through the struggle of equality and freedom.
“Malcolm X, was coming to the realization that the oppression of women was inseparable from the oppression of African Americans…You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is be an intelligent human being. (Malcolm X 1965b, 135) …one of the things I became thoroughly convinced of in my recent travels is the importance of giving freedom to the woman, giving her education, and giving her the incentive to get out there and put that same spirit and understanding in their children…I frankly am proud of the contributions that our women have made in the struggle for freedom and I’m one person who’s for giving them all the leeway possible because they’ve made a greater contribution than many of us men. (Quoted in Cone 1991, 279)”5
After Malcolm X’s travels to Africa and Mecca, he came to the realization of the lack of appreciation for women in all of global society. He made it known to the world of the importance of women and their contributions to the movement.
Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr. did not have as large of an impact on women rights as did Malcolm X. The only partial stance he took regarding the equality and rights of women was surrounded by the topic of contraception. He publicly made his point known through magazine articles, expressing his content that women have the right to choose when they are ready and feel responsible enough to bare and take care of a human being.
Then and Now
Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence from when he walked the earth left a legacy
“I Have a Dream” Speech read to over 200,000 integrated people on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial carried hope and optimism in the challenge to integrate society peacefully. The famous speech brought together thousands of people into one area, united by the desire to listen to one man’s purpose for change. Made and spoken by MLK, it seems as though he overshadowed many of Malcolm X’s efforts and achievements. There has been a signified day created for MLK in memorial of him and his purpose. Although, this begs the question, why did Malcolm X receive little recognition in his efforts? Maybe it was because of the small rally’s he spoke to rather than rally’s consisting of thousands, or possibly his absences when he traveled and found new meaning to his ideologies.
The beginning of Malcolm X’s career before his trip to Mecca was rough because of his racist and hypocritical views of the “white man”. His opening campaigns consisted of hypocritical and overbearing judgment of the “white man” aka the oppressors. As years went by, Malcolm X eventually found himself and realized his hypocritical views were out of pure judgment based off of one geological area. When he traveled around the world, he discovered people of all ethnicity’s peacefully integrated and sharing a mutual respect for one another in other continents. This inspired him to share with America his findings. He reveled in the realization that not all white men are advocates for segregation. In time, his portrayal of the European Americans began to shift as his hypocritical views vanished. His new found respect for the white race prompted him to do more in order to target the innocent whites, and also the primary oppressors in hopes of transforming their views for the betterment of society.
Malcolm X died by assassination on February 21, 1965.5 He died a brave man with many accomplishments and triumphs. He died two years after he was declared second most sought after speaker in the United States.8
He led one of the largest Civil Rights Movement events in Harlem called the Unity Rally on June 29, 1963.6 Malcolm X’s primary autobiography was published after his death. His book justifies in detail the reasoning behind his purpose and the steps he took in order to achieve greatness. Now, 21st century America and other countries around the world embrace his autobiography. It is shared and analyzed by scholars and recreational historical readers to this day. Although his life was short lived, he died for the cause that he knew was worth fighting for. One thing he lacked in his devotion to liberating the oppressed was an early realization of his hypocritical starting views. The beliefs he held when he first started protesting were not targeted to attract and influence the white race, in fact it only made them angrier or pushed them away from the cause. Eventually, he came to terms with his wrong doing from the beginning and changed his outlook, but by then it was a little late in his career. He still managed to do as much as he could with the time he had. If he would have determined his wrong doings early on, he may have been a more prominent figure rather than being overshadowed by MLK. Whatever the case, both men were brave and died for a cause they believed in no matter the level of consequence.
Martin Luther King Jr. also died by assassination on April 4, 1968. (doc6) During his short life, he achieved followers through small rally’s and the immense “March on Washington” rally at the Lincoln Memorial when he made his “I Have a Dream” speech. He achieved multiple degrees from a variety of colleges and won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. 21st century Americans celebrate MLK’s legacy by dedicating the third Monday of January (birthday) every year to him on this specified day. MLK has been documented in our history and his achievements will not be forgotten. Although, he accomplished much…he lacked motive and influence on problems concerning women and their inalienable rights. He skimmed the topic to a degree but did not advocate it as much as Malcolm X did. He failed to recognize the importance of women in society and the impacts of sexism. Racism and non-violent campaigning for liberation was his main goal. All other sub related issues were thrown on the back burner which was his biggest fault.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both were equally determined in their intentions to make people aware of the mistreatment and segregationist views oppressors advocated. They both succeeded in winning over thousands of followers and changing the perspective of those both unaware of the brutality during that era and those directly influenced or participants of the segregationist powers. Malcolm X left the world with knowledge of social integration and the possibility of peace from it. He also revealed other issues concerning other than racial discrepancies. Martin Luther King Jr. left the world with documents embellishing his views and hope for the world. He brought to America a new kind of hope, and a bravery that has since been an inspiration to citizens and upcoming change advocates for years. These two men bestowed upon us their knowledge and lives dedicated to the betterment of society and future generations. If it wasn’t for them, segregation could still be witnessed. Our generations and future ones to come should be grateful of the change these men brought to the world. It only takes a voice to improve on the peace in society.