Martin Luther King and Malcolm X came from community activist families with minister fathers and experienced racism in their youth. Nevertheless, Martin had a respectable social circle, a cozy home, and a friendly atmosphere. His early hatred of white people faded as he got older and had more positive experiences with them. He took advantage of several educational opportunities to develop his outstanding talents. Martin Luther King was chosen as the president of Montgomery Improvement Association “after completing his Ph. D. in theology at Boston University” (Nieman 149).
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Malcolm X grew up in a ruined home: racists murdered his father, his mother was harassed by the state and then institutionalized, and he lived in foster families. Despite his deep intelligence, he was discouraged by the fact that every white is meaningful because of the skin color (Schulist). This truth inspired him to progress, and he taught blacks that whites must be disarmed. While spending time in Harlem, Malcolm became addicted to the underworld and was thrown into prison, where he educated himself, converted to Islam, and became Minister Malcolm X. The environment of two leaders formed their approaches to the civil rights struggle.
The goal of Dr. King was to eliminate legal obstacles to civil rights for black people and put together southern society to create an environment with healthy and positive interaction between blacks and whites. This struggle was not easy since “court decisions and statutes attacking the South’s caste system would meet massive, determined, ingenious, and often violent resistance from whites determined to preserve their power and privilege” (Nieman 150). Later, Dr. King was disappointed with whites’ behavior and attitude towards blacks and focused on social justice issues and poverty. Malcolm X initially considered white society to be irreparably spoiled and called blacks to learn to love themselves regardless of whites’ opinions. Later, however, he based his position on the idea that white society is full of corrupt values that must be eliminated so that black society could gain their rights.
Dr. King was primarily a political activist who sought to pressure politicians in his campaigns to initiate change. Malcolm X was a cultural activist and wanted to change the narrative white society imposed on black people by encouraging self-improvement and self-love. Later his theology became less passive, and he left the apolitical Nation of Islam (Schulist). While Martin participated in anti-poverty campaigns and anti-war activities, Malcolm remained primarily a racial justice activist for the rest of his life. He always took an interest in wider politics and economics, but he was killed before he could act on it.
Martin Luther King addressed both black and white people, and his goal was to convince them of Jim Crow’s moral injustice and social discrimination. Malcolm mostly directed his speeches to black audiences to persuade his followers to take action against white supremacy, address the problems black communities faced, and educate them. Both had a warlike tone, but while Martin used swift, revolutionary rhetoric with a high moral tone, Malcolm had a confrontational, direct, brutally sardonic, and more down-to-earth style. Scholars describe Dr. King’s manner: “King electrified the throng with a largely improvised speech… in rolling cadences, he assured his listeners” (Nieman 149). Martin was generous and oratorical, while Malcolm was talkative and didactic. Martin used non-violent civil disobedience based on militant pacifism to get his point across. Malcolm preferred to stay out of trouble with the government unless he defended black lives and strove for independence.
Nevertheless, both leaders had a common goal: they wanted black people’s dignity and humanity to be recognized and respected. Dr. King and Malcolm X were mass leaders and focused on the day-to-day struggles of blacks, using mass movements to achieve their goals. Both were deeply religious, had a global focus on human rights, confronted poverty, capitalism, unjust war, police brutality, and white supremacy. They had the same militant, radical outlook, were fearless facing violent threats, and had similar leadership styles.
Nieman, Donald G. Promises to Keep: African Americans and the Constitutional Order, 1776 to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2020.
“Eyes On The Prize (Part 2): Fighting Back 1957 1962 Americas Civil Rights Movement – The Best Document.” YouTube, uploaded by Tierra Schulist. 2017, Web.