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Comparison on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. : Who Had More Influence over the Civil Rights Movement

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Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, many leaders emerged that captured the attention of the American public. During this period, the leaders’ used different tactics in order to achieve change. Of two of the better-known leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., the latter had a more positive influence in the progress of the movement.

Each of these two leaders had different views on how to go about gaining freedom. While King believed a peaceful means would allow the blacks to achieve equality with the white Americans, Malcolm X took a more pessimistic approach. He believed achieving equality was nearly impossible and preached a more separatist doctrine. The men’s later beliefs were formed in their youth.

King was raised in a middle-class home where his parents knew the value of a good education. The environment was one filled with dreams, love and strong values where he could grow and mature with confidence. On the contrary, X’s childhood was not as pleasant. Coming from an underprivileged home, he had little schooling and instead turned to drugs. The abuse he saw from his father, who was later murdered at the hands of a white man, and the abuse he suffered, under his mother would be crucial in his later actions. One of Malcolm X’s first vivid memories was of when his home was being burned by the Ku Klux Klan. These circumstances at home would lead to the anger and hate mustering in Malcolm that would be expressed later in his life.

These differences in the upbringing are largely responsible for the separate approaches in how they responded to the issue of racism. Martin Luther King was to many calm and idealistic. Non-violence and encouragement was key in his philosophy of integration. “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 way.” Christianity, community and the radical pacifist views of Mahatma Gandhi inspired the basis to this thinking. King was an excellent speaker and preacher at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and rose in the ranks at the beginning of the movement during the Montgomery Bus-boycott. His teachings encouraged more peaceful movements such as sit-ins; the freedom rides and the famous Selma-Montgomery march for voting rights. Some of this call for peaceful change can be seen in the quote by King when receiving his Nobel Peace Prize,

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Martin Luther King Jr., December 11, 1964

Even though his call for unarmed resistance, many of the movements actions were often met with force and resistance from white southerners. Often the participants in the movement were threatened, harassed, and thrown into jail. These actions taken by the whites were only met with still peaceful means and King discouraged retaliation. A classic example of this is when his home was bombed in Montgomery and he stood on his front stoop to encourage the neighborhood who wanted to take up arms, saying that it was not necessary.

On the other end of the spectrum was Malcolm X. In contrast to King, who held a strong belief in integration and non-violent resistance, Malcolm felt that non-violence and integration was a ploy by the whites to keep the black man down. He also felt that only through revolution could blacks attain their rightful place in society as described in his speech “Definition of A Revolution”. His anger and bitterness toward white people can be seen in his preaching of a separatist strategy for black survival. “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.” His teachings enticed riots and the need for black power, or, as some may say, black supremacy. Much like King who’s teaching helped to influence groups such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Malcolm’s teachings helped influence more radical groups such as the Black Panthers,

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