Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcolm X

Essay, Research Paper Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X grew up in different environments and this difference affected the way that they worked for equal rights. King was raised in a comfortable middle-class family where education was stressed. On the other hand, Malcolm X came from an underprivileged home.

Essay, Research Paper

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X grew up in different environments and this difference affected the way that they worked for equal rights. King was raised in a comfortable middle-class family where education was stressed. On the other hand, Malcolm X came from an underprivileged home. He was a self-taught man who received very little schooling and became great by his own intelligence and determination. Martin Luther King was born into a family whose name in Atlanta was well established. Despite segregation, Martin Luther King’s parents ensured that their child was secure and happy. Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925 and was raised in a completely different atmosphere than King, at a young age his house was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan and his father was murdered. His mother later had a nervous breakdown and his family was split up. He was haunted by this early nightmare for most of his life. From that time on, he was driven by hatred and a desire for revenge.

The early history of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were responsible for the different responses to American racism. Both men became daunting figures in African-American culture and had a great influence on black Americans. However, King had a more positive attitude than Malcolm X; he believed that through peaceful demonstrations and arguments, blacks would someday be able to achieve full equality with whites. Malcolm X’s despair about life was reflected in his angry, pessimistic belief that equality is impossible because whites have no moral conscience. In his learnings, and later in his teachings, Malcolm X stressed the evils of whites. King basically adopted on an integrationalist philosophy, where he felt that blacks and whites should be united and live together in peace. Malcolm X promoted nationalist and separatist doctrines. For most of his life, he believed that only through rebellion and force could blacks attain their rightful place in society.

Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King spread their message through powerful speeches, but their intentions were delivered in different styles and purposes. “King was basically a peaceful leader who urged non-violence to his followers. He traveled about the country giving speeches that inspired black and white listeners to work together for racial harmony.” (Archer, 139) Malcolm X, for the most part, believed that non-violence and

integration was a trick by the whites to keep blacks in their places. He was furious at white racism and encouraged his followers through his speeches to rise up and protest against their white enemies. (Haley, 43) After Malcolm X broke away from Elijah Mohammed, this change was reflected more in his speeches. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s childhood?s had powerful influences on the men and their speeches.

Malcolm X was brought up in an atmosphere of violence. During his childhood, Malcolm X suffered not only from abuse by whites, but also from his family. His father beat his mother and his mother beat him. (Haley, 4) His mother was forced to raise eight children during the depression times. After his mother had a mental breakdown, the children were all placed in foster homes. Malcolm X’s resentment was increased as he suffered through the cruelties of mixed races schooling. He was an intelligent student who shared the same dream of being a lawyer with Martin Luther King, but Malcolm X’s anger and pain caused him to drop out of school. He started to use cocaine and set up a burglary ring to support his bad habit. Malcolm X’s hostility and promotion of violence as a way of getting change was well established in his childhood.

Martin Luther King grew up in a completely different situation. He was a smart student and skipped two grades before entering a classy college at the age of 15. He was the class valedictorian and had an A average. King paraded his graduation present, a new green Chevrolet in front his fellow graduates. He was raised in the perfect environment where dreams and love were possible. King and Malcolm X’s childhood?s are “a study in polarity.” (Archer, 46) While Malcolm X was raised in nightmarish conditions, King’s home was almost perfect. He was raised in a comfortable middle-class home where strong values nurtured his sense of self-worth. (Archer, 92) Many people have admired Malcolm X and Martin Luther King for the way that they preached. “Both King and Malcolm X promoted self-knowledge and respect for one’s history and culture as the basis for unity.” (Archer, 53) Other than the fact that they were similar in those ways, they also had many differences that people admired, both in belief and speech. Malcolm X was known to many as an extremist. Most of the time that he spent as an Islamic minister, he preached about separatism between blacks and whites. He also preached about Black Nationalism, and as some would call it, black supremacy.

Important people had misled Malcolm X throughout his whole life. This is shown clearest at the time when he broke away from the black Muslim party, when he finally realized that they were misleading him by telling him that separatism between blacks and whites is the only way to go. They also misled him by telling him that

separatism is a part of the Islamic religion. Malcolm X’s life was referred to as a nightmare because he was abused and haunted by both blacks and whites. Malcolm X blamed many of the conditions that blacks in the United States lived in on the whites. He also talked about how the white man still sees the black man as a slave. Martin Luther King appeared to many as calm and idealistic. Many say his calmness came from his peaceful, middle-class life. King preached about equality for blacks and whites. He preached about getting this equality through a non-violent way. King’s popularity was more than any other black leader’s popularity. “King urged blacks to win their rightful place in society by gaining self-respect, high moral standards, hard work and leadership. He also urged blacks to do this in a non-violent matter,” (Archer, 96).

The differences between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s backgrounds had a direct influence on their later viewpoints. As a black youth, Malcolm X was rebellious and angry. He blamed the poor social conditions that blacks lived in on the whites. “His past ghetto life prepared him to reject non-violence and integration and to accept a strong separatist philosophy as the basis for black survival,” (Brown, 67). He even believed at one time that whites were agents of the devil. As a result, “Malcolm X recommended a separatist and nationalist strategy for black survival,” (Brown, 23). He believed that only through violence would conditions change. He saw no evidence that white society had any moral conscience and promoted the role of the angry black against racist America. King’s philosophies presented a sharp contrast to those of Malcolm X. He believed that through hard work, strong leadership, and non-violent tactics, blacks could achieve full equality with whites. His belief in non-violence even extended to a woman who nearly killed him. He was reported as saying, “don’t persecute her, get her healed,” (Archer, 87).

Near the end of their lives, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s beliefs became more similar. Malcolm X corrected himself after his break with the black Muslim movement. He now emphasized unity and change through black pride and respect for oneself rather than through hate and revenge. King, on the other hand, became somewhat angry at the lack of progress made on equality. He started promoting non-violent sabotage, which including blocking the normal functioning of government. At one time, Malcolm X actually wanted “to join forces with King and the progressive elements of the Civil Rights Movement,” (Archer, 130). To many people, King and Malcolm X were heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. However, many have also seen that King was more pessimistic, while Malcolm X was more optimistic about separatism for most of his life. It seems like later on in

their lives, they had changed and taken the opposite roles. The speeches of King and Malcolm X reflected both mens? visions on improving America. Both men believed that if blacks were to attain freedom, they first needed to achieve self-respect. However, Malcolm X’s speeches were delivered in a revolutionary tone which could incite his listeners to hatred of white America. Malcolm X used direct and to the point language that could be understood by all levels of society. “He had mastery in language and could project his ideas,” (Rummel, 78). This creativity in language helped build the Black Muslim Movement in the United States. In his “Definition of a Revolution” speech delivered in November 1963, Malcolm X openly justifies violence as a way of gaining equality. “And if it is right for America to draft us and teach us how to be violent in defense of the country, then isn’t it right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country,” (Rummel, 53). He encouraged blacks to hate white America and had to revolt against them. “Revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way,? (Rummel, 53). In his speech “God’s Judgment of White America”, delivered on December 1, 1963, Malcolm X again promoted his separatist philosophy. (Rummel, 34) “America must set aside some separate territory here in the Western Hemisphere where the two races can live apart from each other, since we certainly don’t get along peacefully while we are here together,” (Rummel, 60). After Malcolm X’s pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, he rethought his racist and anti-white beliefs. This change is reflected in his “Communication and Reality” spoken to the American Domestic Peace Corps. “I am against any form of racism. We are all against racism. I believe in Allah. I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I do not believe in the brotherhood with anybody who does not want brotherhood with me,? (Archer, 187). Martin Luther King was an equally strong speaker. However, most of his speeches were given to encourage white and black people to work together for racial harmony. He especially wanted to teach black youth that equality could be gained through non-violent methods. These ideas are reflected in his famous “I have a dream” speech, where King addressed over 250,000 people. In this speech, King urges black people to never forget their dreams. King preaches that in the eyes of God, the blacks are as good as any other race and should be treated as equals.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state sweltering

with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day the state

of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, and rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (I Have A Dream).

Unlike Malcolm X, King does not incite his followers to riot and hate, but encourages his followers to remember that all people are God’s children and that hopefully one day all American can join together to sing “My country tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing,? (Brown, 72). King’s eventual discouragement came about because of the lack of success the blacks were making in America. This discomfort is reflected in his “A time to break the silence” speech. In this speech, he openly condemns American involvement in the Vietnam War. He preaches that America should solve its own racial and social problems before sending vulnerable young men, especially black men, to fight other country’s battles. “So we have been respectfully forced with the cruel irony of watching Negroes and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to sit them together in the same schools,” (A Time To Break The Silence).

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are both remembered as leaders who fought for a difference in black America. Both tried to bring hope to blacks in the United States. They also tried to instill within the blacks a sense of power and strength so that they could rise above all the hatred that surrounded them, but both of them had very different ways of promoting their message. Malcolm X had a much more extremist approach. This approach came from his neglected childhood and early adulthood. King had a much more calm approach. This non-violent approach came from his safe, middle-class environment. Even though they were different in addressing their

messages about black respect and pride, in the end they both had the same goal in mind. That goal was to achieve equality between all races.


Archer, Jules. They Had a Dream. Puffin Books; New York, New York. 1993.

Brown, Kevin. Malcolm X. The Millbrook Press; Brookfield, Connecticut. 1995.

Haley, Alex and X, Malcolm. The AutoBiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books; New York. 1965.

Love, Ken. I Have a Dream. Black History.

Love, Ken. A Time To Break the Silence.

Rummel, Jack. Malcolm X, Militant Black Leader. Melrose Square Publishing Company; Los Angeles, California. 1988.