Martin Luther King and Malcom X

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One CauseMany black authors and leaders of the sixties shared similar feelingstowards the white run American society in which they lived. Malcolm X,James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Stokely Carmichael all blamed thewhites for the racism which existed. However, they agreed that it was upto the black society to end this problem. Using the black society, each ofthe authors had their own idea of how racism could be stopped. Unfortunately, for some, such as Malcolm X, this involved the use ofviolence, while others, such as King, favored the non-violent approach. This paper will focus, for the most part, on Malcolm X and King becausethey are both strong representations of two different approaches to acommon goal. Perhaps their different approaches of violence andnonviolence stem from their original opinions of how capable the whites areNot all of the whites involved in the problem of racism supported it.

Some were actually trying to help fight for the blacks. Unfortunately, ittook Malcolm X a long time to figure that out. Malcolm’s paper, “TheBallot or the Bullet,” makes that clear. In his paper, he is constantlycriticizing whites as a whole. He does not consider, even for a moment,that a white could actually support equality for all men. “Usually, it’sthe white man who grins at you the most, and pats you on the back, and issupposed to be your friend. He may be friendly, but he’s not your friend”However, in a later work of his, “1965,” one can see that Malcolm waslearning to accept whites as possible allies.

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I tried in every speech I made to clarify my new position regarding white people – ‘I don’t speak against the sincere, well meaning, good white people. I have learned that there are some. I have learned that not all white people are racists’. Yet, while Malcolm learned over a period of time that not all whitesare evil, King entered the scene already fully aware that “good” whitesexisted. In fact, where Malcolm underestimated the goodness in whites,King seems to have overestimated it. He talks about his overestimating ofgoodness in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” “I guess I should have realizedthat few members of a race that has oppressed another race canunderstand…the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that havebeen oppressed”. Yet, even after he found that he did not receive asmuch white support as he had hoped for, King never lost faith in the whiteAltogether, these views of white society as expressed by Malcolm andKing are reflected in their methods of fighting racism.

Malcolm, whosupported the use of violence to achieve equality, most likely reached theconclusion that this was the only way to fight the whites based on hisoriginal view of them as heartless and uncaring. One place in Malcolm’s”Ballot or Bullet,” where his categorizing of whites with violence andcruelty can be found, is during a passage in which he compares the whiteman with a Guerrilla warrior. “You’ve got to have a heart to be aGuerrilla warrior, and he (the white man) hasn’t got any heart”. Malcolm sees the whites as a violent group. He most likely came to histheory, that nothing important could be accomplished without violence,through the reasoning that only violence can be used to stop a violentgroup. Violent people would not understand the use of peaceful means toreach an agreement. Therefore, it is not really the violence itself whichhe supports as much as it is the reason for using it.

He justifies his useof violence by trying to explain that there is no other way to get throughIn contrast, King sees the whites more as victims of violence thancreators of violence. He blames the violence, itself, on evil forces. In”Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” King calls the problem of racism”tension…between the forces of light and the forces of darkness…. Weare out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust”. Therefore, one can see why King rejects the idea of using violence toachieve his goals. Only love can defeat evil. “The aftermath ofnonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermathof violence is tragic bitterness”.

Aside from their basic methods of achieving their goals, Malcolm X andKing have also talked about solutions for the racial problem. What couldput an end to racial prejudices in America? For King, part of the answerto this question would include the elimination of “unjust” laws. These arelaws which the white man expects the black man to follow, without followingthe laws himself. Everyone should be required to follow the same set ofrules. These rules should also be consistent with the “moral” law. Lawsshould not be intended to hurt someone or degrade them (Letter from Birm. Malcolm X answers this question a little more concretely. In “1965,”he suggests that whites, who wish to help, should work with other whites tochange the beliefs of the white system as a whole. They should teachfriends, family, and any one else they know about nonviolence.

Supportivewhites should work together to change America’s racist view of blacks inthe society . Likewise, he expects the blacks to do the same intheir communities. In this manner, both sides of the racial problem can bedealt with at the same time, making an end to the racial problem moreIn conclusion, it is obvious that Malcolm X and Martin Luther Kingwere fighting for the same cause, racism. Although their views on whiteAmericans, which affected their methods of approach, were originallydifferent, both activists came to realize that not all whites can beclassified as good or bad. They began to see that, instead of discouragingwhites from helping, they could use eager whites to create more of animpact within the white communities. This is important because it showsthat it is possible for whites and blacks to work together for a singlecause. It leaves hope that maybe one day, all traces of racism candisappear and leave behind a united society in which everyone can worktogether for the good of the country.


  1. King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” TheBorzoi College Reader, 3rd edition. Ed. CharlesMuscatine and Marlene Griffith. New York: Alfred A. ——- Pilgrimage to Nonviolence ’58. Memeo.
  2. Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove——- “The Ballot or the Bullet.” The Borzoi CollegeReader, 2nd Edition. Ed. Charles Muscatine and MarleneGriffith. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1974.

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