In the United States, the 1960’s were a massive time of upheaval and civil unrest. African-Americans yearning to be deemed as equal in their own homes went to great lengths to earn the freedom they deserved. During this time, two remarkable civil-rights leaders emerged: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. While King was striving to lead a non-violent and completely irenic movement, Malcolm X was willing to turn to violence if it was the only means that would accomplish this goal. Although having different viewpoints, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King JR. were both important and dedicated civil rights activists that helped shape modern-day America.
On May 29th, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X was born as Malcolm Little to Earl and Louise Little. Earl was a preacher and a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, therefore exposing young Malcolm to the injustices that the African American community was facing. In 1931, Earl Little was found murdered, although the police never confirmed that any white supremacist groups perpetrated his death, the family believed that the Ku Klux Klan was responsible and they fell into disarray. Louise Little was later committed to a mental institution and Malcolm and his siblings were subsequently placed into foster homes.
When Malcolm was in eighth grade, he dropped out of school because he felt that the faculty and staff were racially discriminating him against. He proceeded to travel to Boston, where he stayed with his older sister Ella Collins. After a string of petty crimes, Malcolm was sentenced to jail for robbery in 1946. Throughout his duration in prison, Malcolm was exposed to the Nation of Islam. Malcolm began to religiously study the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of this organization. Muhammad preached an adherence to a strict moral code and the reliance of African-Americans upon other African-Americans.
When Malcolm was released from prison in 1952, he traveled to Detroit, Michigan to work with Muhammad. He soon recognized Malcolm’s oratory prowess and bright intellect and appointed him as a minister and the national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. Malcolm’s extraordinary charisma and faith helped the group grow to almost 30,000 members by 1960.
In 1960 Malcolm created a national newspaper entitled Muhammad Speaks, which helped promote the message of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm was not necessarily an advocate for violence, but he believed that a peaceful struggle would not completely end racism and segregation either. In Malcolm’s 1963 Speech Message to the Grassroots, he said, “There is nothing in our book, the Qur’an, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone lays a hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.’(1963) Within the same speech, Malcolm said, “A revolution is bloody. Revolution is hostile. Revolution knows no compromise. Revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way. And you, sitting around here like a knot on the wall, saying, “I’m going to love these folks no matter how much they hate me.” No, you need a revolution.” (1963).Evidently, Malcolm believed that violence was possibly a key component in order to finally end the long period of unequal treatment for African-Americans.
Martin Luther King was born on January 25th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a preacher and his mother Alberta was a schoolteacher. Since both of his parents were highly educated and thus were a middle-class family, Martin and his siblings received a higher education than most of their contemporaries. Growing up, young Martin was very much affected by racial segregation and the humiliation that stemmed from it. He attended high school at Booker T. Washington a segregated institution. Here he excelled in his studies and was known for his public speaking and participated in school debates.
In 1944, Martin graduated from high school and was admitted Morehouse College when he was only 15. Subsequently, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 1948 and later received his doctorate degree in Systematic Theology 1955. In 1954, Martin became a pastor in Alabama at Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama. His first massive civil rights campaign was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Approximately 40,000 African-American bus riders boycotted the bus system and continued to do so until the city met its demands. The group wanted to be treated with basic respect and wanted a first come first serve seating policy. Shortly after its completion, Martin helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group that became highly influential throughout the Civil Rights movement. Later on, the SCLC held up to twenty meetings in various southern towns, with the hopes of registering African American voters within these regions.
Martin Luther King was known for his non-violent approach to the civil rights reform. In his Nobel lecture at the University of Oslo, he stated that ‘Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.” (1964). The essence of this argument is that results obtained through violence are never enduring, but results obtained through peace are permeable.
For Martin, a civil rights movement perpetrated by violence wasn’t one he wanted to be a part of it. This is where he and Malcolm X disagreed most. On March 26th, 1964, Malcolm X met Martin Luther King on Capitol Hill. Their conversation lasted only a mere minute and was incredibly impersonal. King would later say in regards to Malcolm during a playboy interview in 1965,”he is very articulate … but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views — at least insofar as I understand where he now stands.”(1965). However Malcolm was positive that Dr.King’s policy of non-violent protest would allow segregation to endure for decades, possibly even longer. He was also wasn’t sure that African-Americans and white people could really live together. On the contrary, Martin was positive that Malcolm’s imposing threats of physical violence would only further alienate the two communities. Thus, due to their opposing views, there was often tension betwixt them. In an interview with Louis Lomax, Malcolm dismissed Martin as “just a 20th century or modern Uncle Tom, or a religious Uncle Tom, who is doing the same thing today to keep Negroes defenseless in the face of an attack.”