Martin Luther King and Malcolm X
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This man was named Malcolm X. These two men, although fighting for the same result, were also fighting between themselves in their beliefs about which path was correct to obtain equal rights. Both of these men rose to become powerful and influential men and created mass attention to the problems blacks faced. Their views were affected by their childhood, role models, and other events in their lives. The influences of these men go back as far as early 1900's, with Booker T Washington and W.E.B. Dubois to a few decades later with Marcus Garvey and A. Phillip Randolph. To better understand Martin Luther King and Malcolm X views, I will compare them to previous leaders like them, who like them devoted all of their efforts to the fight for equality for the black race.
On January 15th, 1929, Martin Luther King was born in an Atlanta hospital. Being the son (and grandson) of a respected minister, Martin had an "easy" childhood compared to most blacks during this time period. It was declared that he was well loved by his family and the community, and experienced little to no direct prejudice or racism during his childhood. I believe that the events that lead up to adulthood create and mold an individual in their beliefs and actions as a human. When comparing the two childhoods of King and Malcolm X, one can see the reason for these two individuals to take such different approaches to the same issue. Malcolm's childhood was not as easy as that of the beloved minister's son. At the age of three his house was burned in Omaha and at the age of six his father was killed by a streetcar in Lansing, which had suspicions leading to white supremacists for being the ones involved with the murder. Later in his life while attending school he was asked by his teacher what he wanted to be when he was older. When he replied that he had intentions to be a lawyer, the teacher simply laughed at him and said that it wasn't a realistic goal for a "nigger". After his mother was checked into an insane asylum, he was moved around to foster homes, and eventually lived with his aunt in Boston where he led a life of crime. The drastic differences in these leader's upbringings can account for why they said and did as they did. The single most important aspect of Malcolm X's child hood was that his father was a follower of Marcus Garvey.
The beliefs of Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey are very similar in that they both wanted to unite the black population and revolt against white society. Garveyism, which preached separatism, became one of Malcolm's views when he entered into the Nation of Islam. This religion, founded by Elijah Muhammad, was a religion created for blacks that blamed all of their oppression on the white man. This extreme racist religion captivated the young troubled Malcolm, which led to his rise to becoming a prominent leader. In comparison to other black leaders, Marcus Garvey stood out in my mind because of his powerful and extreme views and methods in leading the black race. Malcolm, during his time in the NOI, preached separatism, and believed that all white men were the devil. The most pertinent view that both of these leaders shared were "Black Nationalism". Black Nationalism was preached by Garvey and the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) in the early 1920's, and was a political and social movement popularized by Malcolm X in the 1960's. The point of Black Nationalism was to unite blacks and acquire economic power and to create a sense of community and group feeling among the black population. Malcolm was a firm believer that if it was necessary, violence was the best way for change. He states that our entire history had been based on acts of violence, and for the only real change to occur; blacks need unite and defend themselves against the white oppressors. He did not state that his intentions were to be violent to whites but he preached more of a self defense technique. Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the "philosophy of the fool." This radical approach seemed to fit the same approach that Garvey attempted to lead in the 1920's. Although Garvey had failed in uniting the black race and moving back to Africa, he created a new unorthodox approach which influenced many such as Malcolm X.
Martin Luther King's non violent tactics were criticized by Malcolm and other black leaders for being ineffective. Although not everyone in the civil rights circle agreed with the non violent tactics as the sole technique, King organized and achieved a lot of results from his peaceful protests and acts against segregation. Unlike most leaders before him, being a minister led him to a path of non violent tactics. King's ideals can be compared to a prominent leader, Booker T Washington. Washington preached a philosophy of self-help, racial solidarity and accommodation. He urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and felt that the rise of the black race would come through hard work and material prosperity. Both of these men dealt with the rights of blacks, but King was more actively involved in changing the laws, while Washington focused on changing the black race. Although they have some similarities, you can also compare King to another man named W.E.B Dubois. If King was around during the time of Dubois, I feel that he would have agreed with what he was doing. I believe that they were similar in their philosophies on how to change the social and political views of the US. Although Dubois was considered more of a radical, he was more like King in that he wanted to change outside of the system. Kings protests were the perfect example of what Dubois wanted Washington to do. Even though I have refuted my previous argument of them being similar, I feel that they were similar in their views on the non violent techniques and their somewhat accommodations to whites. Also, (like Washington) Kings goals were reasonably attainable, and both of them knew change would not happen overnight.
Both Malcolm X and Dubois stated that King and Washington were puppets for the white race". Malcolm stated once that "King is the best weapon that the white man, who wants to brutalize Negroes, has ever gotten in this country." In these criticisms lies the real comparison between Martin Luther King and Booker T Washington, because they were both felt as traitors to some blacks. Their conformity to the mainstream (white) society and the feeling of ineffectiveness of their approaches are similar in that they both knew that change is gradual. I know that because they were both criticized doesn't necessarily make them similar, but my point is that they both had more of a conservative mentality when compared to the more radical leaders like Dubois and Malcolm X.
The comparison of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to previous black leaders has shown the reasons behind the differences in the perspectives of King and Malcolm X. Throughout African American history there has been "radical" leaders (Malcolm X) and "reasonable" leaders (MLK) that have tried to advance the black race. In looking at the history of these two types of leaders, both radical and reasonable people are needed for things to change. The Gandhi like views of Martin Luther King of progress through peace, and the Garvey like ideals of Malcolm X and Black Nationalism are all important on achieving what both groups want. It is inevitable that there will be two sides or more on any subject and although these two leaders were very different in their approach, they were both a necessity for uniting the black population and advocating change within their society.