A Comparative Analysis Of Martin Luther King Jnr. And Malcolm X

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A Comparative Analysis Of Martin Luther King Jnr. And Malcolm X

Both Martin Luther King Jnr. and Malcolm X were active forerunners of one of the biggest movements in the history of America famously known as the African American Civil Rights Movement. They were influential figures in the Civil Rights era which reached its apex during the 1960s. Their powerful voices appealed to African Americans who had been disenfranchised and unabatedly treated as second class citizens across the entire nation. Individually, each had a different approach in the quest for racial equality. Martin Luther King Jnr. preached the philosophy of “love thy enemy” which had been imposed on him earlier on by his role model Mahatma Gandhi and believed equality could be achieved through peaceful, non-violence means.[1] In contrast to King’s non-violent approach, Malcolm X did not ascribe to such idealism but believed racial equality and justice could only be achieved through force and violence. In this essay, I will compare and contrast King’s idealistic approach to Malcolm X’s radical extremism to show how their views paved the way for equality and social justice.

Many scholars have sought to determine who between King and Malcolm X was responsible for a greater change in the civil rights movement. The question can only be answered through an evaluation of each man’s views and how coherent each was in agitating for social justice. There are many who consider Martin Luther King Jnr. as the more influential force behind the movement mainly because it was King who promoted the inclusion of other sympathetic races including White Americans to the Civil Rights movement thereby broadening the base of support for their cause. Those who ascribe to this school of thought perceive Malcolm X as a man who believed in black separation as the first step followed by black pride and then equality “by any means necessary”. He is believed to be a man who saw the Civil Rights Movement as an opportune prospect for revolution in which violence and hating the enemy were the only means of achieving their objective. To better understand the views held by each of the two African American Civil Rights leaders, it is imperative to delve into their origins to determine how their lives shaped their personal philosophies in the struggle for equality and recognition of African Americans as genuine citizens of the United States of America.

Martin Luther King Jnr. was born in 1929 as a middle child to Reverend Martin Luther King Snr. And Alberta Williams King. He grew up in Atlanta and attended Booker T. Washington High School and later Morehouse College aged fifteen without even graduating from High School due to his high intelligence abilities.[2] He graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951 and later married Coretta Scott in 1953. Throughout his entire academic life, King was a known skeptic of many Christianity claims among them the bodily resurrection of Christ.

In his adult life, Martin Luther King Jnr. was professionally a clergyman who later became an activist and a prominent leader of the Civil Rights movement. As a minister in the Baptist Church, King’s early activism laid the foundation for his future leadership roles that included the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, founding of the 1957 Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the March on Washington in 1963 where he gave a speech that would later be famously remembered as the “I Have a Dream” address. In this speech he not only established himself as a great orator but more importantly expressed his vision of an American society where a person would not be judged by the color of his or her skin. King became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts in ending racial segregation and discrimination by non-violent means. Before his assassination on 4th April, 1968 at Memphis, King was working on poverty eradication and ending the war in Vietnam. Besides the Nobel Peace Prize, King also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977 and 2004 respectively.

Malcolm X on the other hand was an African American Muslim minister who doubled up as a public speaker and a human rights activist.[3] His followers saw him as a brave advocate for African Americans’ rights and as a man who spoke strongly against crimes perpetrated against black Americans by the White American society. He was perceived by his opponents and detractors as a preacher of racism and black supremacy through violence. He however remains one of the most influential figures in African American history.

Born in 1925 as Malcolm Little, he was the fourth child of Earl Little and Louise Norton. His father is significantly remembered as an outspoken speaker in the Baptist church, a Universal Negro Improvement Association leader, and a strong supporter of Marcus Garvey.[4] He was a major influence on Malcolm’s development of black pride values and self reliance. His early life was characterized by victimization by Ku Klux Klan who lynched one of his brothers and killed two others. After further threats by the Klan, Earl Little’s family had to repeatedly relocate to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and thereafter Lansing, Michigan. His mother’s Scottish ancestry which gave him a light skinned complexion was one of the most hateful aspects he saw in himself so much that he was known to repeatedly observe that he “hated every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.”[5] Despite being a good student in junior high school, Malcolm X dropped out at eighth grade when one of his teachers told him that his ambitions of becoming a lawyer bore “no realistic goals for (an African American)” in a derogatory reference.[6] He later in life remembered the incidence and stated that it made him feel like a career-oriented black man had no place in a white man’s world.

Malcolm X is described as having largely been influenced by his father’s lessons in black pride and self-reliance as well as his own experiences in adult life. His early life was characterized by significant loses including his father’s death when he was only thirteen years old and his mother’s admission in a mental hospital. He spent his youthful years in a series of foster homes after which he became involved in criminal activities that culminated in an eight to ten years prison sentence.[7]  Prison life was significantly influential to Malcolm X’s life because it is while he was serving his sentence that he converted to Islam, became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and joined the Nation of Islam. He became the organization’s outspoken leaders after his parole. He quit the Nation of Islam after leadership wrangles with Elijah Mohammed, another influential figure among the African Americans, and became a Sunni Muslim.

Before his assassination in New York by members of his group, Malcolm X had founded a religious organization called Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm X was a renowned agitator and a propagandist who utilized his exceptional oratory skills in public speaking to influence the emancipation of African Americans to rise against discrimination racial prejudice.[8] Today there are over fifty of his published lectures and interviews being used as scholarly academic materials. His image is highly regarded in the popular culture of rap music, and an abbreviation of his name to a single “X” is found on caps, T-shirts, and buttons. His popularity gives credence to the fact that his views can not be simply be passed off as radical extremism but as a diversity that has grown to be universally recognized.

Martin Luther King Jnr. agitation for a peaceful resolution to the problem of race inequality through non-violent means like civil disobedience can be attributed to the influence of his mentors. One of the people who significantly influenced King was his father’s former classmate at Morehouse College, Howard Thurman. Thurman was a theologian civil rights leader and an educator who mentored King among other youths. He had met and conferred with Mahatma Gandhi during his missionary work and the lessons he learned from Gandhi had a significant influence on his students among them Martin Luther King Jnr. After visiting Gandhi’s birthplace in India, King was so inspired by the legendary Indian’s success through non-violence activism that he later observed in a radio address: “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. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and .............


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