Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcom X In Civil Rights Movements: Common And Different

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Before the years of the 1950’s, African American’s had been fighting against racial discrimination for centuries. However, during the 20th century, the struggle entered the mainstream of American life. The blacks continued to endure the devastating effects of racism along with the prejudice and violence put against them. Up until the Civil War, the blacks were kidnapped from Africa, forced into slavery and exploited to work as servants against their will. They didn’t have control over their own lives, the people that owned them did. There were also groups like the Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist group that targeted them, including threats of violence, bullying, lynching, setting fire to buildings and murder. African-Americans were also segregated in many settings including education, employment, public facilities and more. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s caused a huge amount of controversy and discussion which changed all this. The movement was a struggle for social justice for blacks to gain equal rights under the law. It was the fight for equality that spanned over two decades. Two people that are considered some of the ‘main leaders’ of the movement were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. King promoted a passive, subtle approach towards the issue while Malcom promoted violence. Their two approaches are the main difference between the individuals. Their main similarity is that they both promoted civil rights and wanted to achieve equality for African-Americans in whichever way they deemed it to be possible.

Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist whose background, beliefs and attitude towards the whites affected his methods and approach towards change. King was born on 15th of January, 1929 in Atlanta with his mother, father and two siblings. King then went on to raise a family of his own. Both King’s father and brother were activists during the movement and King’s father directly influenced him and his beliefs. His father infused him with religious beliefs upon the Christian faith and King was also influenced by the peaceful teachings of Ghandi. King, due to his religious upbringing, believed in the use of peaceful demonstrations, acting on love and calmness. This lead King to believe that non-violence was the key to the change African-Americans wanted. In fact, King went on to preach for all to hear “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” (Martin Luther King Jr. 1964) His passive approach of nonviolence sought to secure moral ends through moral means. He preached that the two communities could integrate together peacefully and slowly merge without creating a big fuss or doing so in an aggressive manner. His approach of non-violence provided a positive approach towards the issue of racism and helped to stop wars and preparations for war, to resist violence, to struggle against all types of oppression and discrimination and to seek social justice and genuine democracy for people all around the world.

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Malcom X was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who became a popular figure during the civil rights movement. Along with King, his background, beliefs and attitude towards the white affected his methods and approach towards change. Malcom was born on the 19th of May in Omaha. He grew up with his mother and father, alongside his six brothers and four sisters. Malcom’s father, Earl Little was a pastor and supporter of Garveyism, an aspect of Black Nationalism. Earl was very influential on Malcom as a kid and helped to determine his values. Earl taught his teachings of Garveyism to those who came to the meetings he would host after church and each time, he would take Malcom along with him. Due to being raised in a Black Nationalist tradition, Malcom did not believe that you could get your freedom, self-respect and dignity by simply letting somebody beat up on you, and you not try to defend yourself. This was why Malcom emphasised self-defence. A direct quote from Malcom that portrays this is when he said “I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self-defence; I call it intelligence.” (Malcom X) Malcom was the spokesman for the Nation of Islam (NOI), the Black Muslim movement which violently rejected America, along with its Christian values. He promoted a segregationist approach that sought to instil in blacks pride in their African heritage. He didn’t hate white people, but believed the blacks were superior. He advocated blacks separation but in a different way. He wanted the formation of a self-governing black nation in Africa.

King used many different methods and tactics in order to achieve the change he was looking for, each of which promoted reaching integration through a non-violent process. Each of his methods evolved around the one aspect, civil disobedience. The most commonly known method King used would have to be his famous “I have a dream” speech delivered in 1963. King and other leaders of the movement organised a huge march for equal rights in Washington, D.C. It attracted a massive crowd of over 200,000 followers and protested against racial discrimination in schools and the workforce, along with demanding minimum wage for all workers. King’s speech was delivered directly from the heart. It was what he believed and saw as the truth regarding racial injustice in the U.S. Repetitively King declared “I have a dream” and followed it with statements describing his hope for future America. He hoped for a world in which children would no longer be judged for their skin colour “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” (Martin Luther King Jr., 1963) and where all black and whites alike would join hands “I have a dream that one day in Alabama,… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” (Martin Luther King Jr., 1963) Along with many other things, he also hoped that one day, whites and blacks would be able to sit together in harmony “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King Jr., 1963) King delivered his speech in order to motivate his followers to continue to boycott and protest until they were granted full equality privileges. His speech served to focus the attention on the need for racial equality in that present time, not some time down the road, further along in the future. Another example of a method in which King helped bring around change was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. In Montgomery Alabama, King led a boycott against city buses that refused to let blacks sit in the front seats. The rapidly growing protest led to a citywide boycott until the rules were officially changed. Even though King and his followers were sent to jail, the boycott succeeded in changing the unfair, racist laws allowing segregation aboard buses. King’s motivation behind the act was that he wanted to bring around change in a non-violent way. He strongly believed in equality and bus segregation went against that. The purpose of his protest was to make people aware of the situation, which he did successfully. People all around the country became aware as it was launched on a massive scale, projected all over the media and lasted longer than a year. Another event was the Memphis Sanitation Worker Strike. During 1968, 1,300 black sanitation workers in Memphis protested against their terrible working conditions, discrimination and low pay. The first strike occurred without King but shortly after, he went to Memphis to speak and support them on their second march. The strike finally ended after two months when the city of Memphis agreed to the workers’ demands. His motivation behind going to Memphis was that King wanted to support his fellow peers. They were all in this together, it wasn’t each man for his own and he wanted to show that. In order to achieve total equality he couldn’t just practice what he preached in his own home town, he had to branch wider and serve others who needed his help. These are just 3 of Kings many strategies that helped contribute to change.

Malcom, just like King had many strategies of his own in which he used to fight for change. One method that Malcom did to try achieve change in his own way was he publically protested against what King preached. Malcom regularly criticised King and accused him of bowing down to whites and subjugating blacks to the very culture that had historically denigrated and abused them. Malcom went on to voice his opinion saying 'The white man pays Reverend Martin Luther King, subsidises Reverend Martin Luther King, so that Reverend Martin Luther King can continue to teach the Negroes to be defenceless. That's what you mean by non-violent: be defenceless. Be defenceless in the face of one of the most cruel beasts that has ever taken a people into captivity. That's just the American white man.” (Malcom X) He tried to get people to despise King and his methods towards change in order for them to move to his side and still fight for civil rights, but in the way he believed was right. Malcom’s main methods to achieve change were protest. He went on to host many other protests and urged his followers to defend themselves against white aggression by “any means necessary.” (Malcom X) During his protests, he promoted the use of violence and the importance of fighting back, not just letting yourself be thrown around. At one stage Malcom publicly quoted “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” (Malcom X) Malcom had many strategies of his own in which he used to fight for change.

Although King and Malcom were two extremely different individuals with vastly different opinions, the two shared many similarities. Although King and Malcom had different approaches as to how they wanted to achieve change and equality for African-Americans, overall, they wanted the same result. The two men had similar motivations when it came to change, they wanted what they believed was best for their community. They wanted to be treated equally, respectfully and for the prejudice against them to be stopped. Along with this, both were majorly influenced by their religion and fathers, although influenced in different ways. Their religion and fathers were what motivated the two men to fight for change and speak up for what they believed in. For example, King’s family were Christian and taught King to love all equally and do unto others as you’d have them do to you. Malcom’s father followed Garveyism. He taught Malcom to believe in Black Nationalism and that blacks should be separated in order to form their own government but still should be treated equally and respectfully.

Although the two shared many similarities, the two also had major differences despite their common goal. One major difference was the two methods the men used. While King practiced coming into integration through non-violent methods and slowly joining hand in hand, Malcom practiced quite the opposite. He took a rather violent approach. He preached if the blacks were treated disrespectfully, they should defend themselves. He believed you would never get freedom otherwise. You had to defend yourself and prove your worth, otherwise you’d never get anywhere. Not only were the methods they used different, so were their attitudes. While King had a rather positive approach and hoped for blacks and whites to integrate together openly, Malcom took the negative road of violence in order to prove they deserved respect. He taught people that they needed to earn it, it shouldn’t just be handed to them.

King and Malcom were two extremely significant individuals involved in the process of the civil rights movement. Each had their own different approaches, both of which influenced the change that occurred as a result of the movement. While King took a more passive, non-violent approach, Malcom resorted to violence. The two approaches these men took were affected not only by the religions they followed, but the individuals around them which they respect like their fathers and other influential characters. I believe King had a more effective approach than Malcom. I believe the methods he used like the bus boycott, his speeches and the Memphis Sanitation Worker Strike brought about a greater social change than that of Malcom’s through receiving major media attention. This attention launched his events on a massive scale and made them known world-wide. Through the methods King used, he was able to achieve specific change. The bus boycott led to the laws being eventually changed and the Memphis Strike led to the workers’ demands being met and them being given the respect they deserved. I personally am also more drawn to King’s methods of non-violence, promoting awareness and striking for change, but not creating any extra unnecessary stigma around it. Because of his commitment to peace, nonviolence and equality, King’s methods upon the issue of civil rights made genuine headway in American society. King without question, advanced the movement with his well-spoken elegance and grace. In the modern society of today, King is also more known and remembered than Malcom. If you were to bring up both names in a conversation, more likely than not the person would have something to say about King but may not know about Malcom. Seeing as King is much more well-known, this may be proof that his methods towards change were more successful. These are the reasons I believe Kings approach’s to change were more effective than those of Malcom’s.

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Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcom X In Civil Rights Movements: Common And Different. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
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