Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X

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In 20th century, African-Americans (Black American) faced numerous instances of discrimination from the white community and struggle to attain civil rights. They were being deprived in many ways by white community such as integrated public schools, breakup of public accommodations including buses and trains, water fountains and restrooms, restaurants, the privileged to hike to street unmolested and perhaps the most significant, voting rights. Thus, in order to attain these hardships, they needed someone to lead them and stand as their leader. Although many individuals stood-up and face the challenged of discrimination and segregation, the two most powerful and influential leaders in this era were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Martin Luther King Jr. advocates a peaceful protest against the blinkered white supremacists while Malcolm X urges others to consider all whites as their enemies and use violence to fight for their rights. Although both of them advocacies discussed the same issues of civil rights among Black American, their means of achieving them are very different. Both of them deliver a very important difference in their backgrounds, speeches and ways of release in achieving equality and freedom.

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King’s famous letter, Letter from Birmingham Jail, for instance is a potent appeal to the conscience of white Americans, an address that definitively modified the national discussion on racial transformation from political to moral ideologies. Although, King’s accomplishment in touching the conscience of white Americans cannot be recognized to his letter alone, or even the entire of his verbal address to the public. The change of the civil rights debate from the political to the moral dominion was the product of a multifaceted symbolic event that included visual, as well as verbal, components. King’s Birmingham campaign completed the ‘color line’ visible, triggering the shame and moral condemnation of white Americans. Thus, if King’s letter was an expressive explanation of his visual tactic, the Birmingham campaign was its realization. The verbal appeals to emotion, conscience, and moral sensibility were triumphant in part because the descriptions of dogs and fire hoses turned against black bodies were an exercise in cross-racial vision, making the veracity of racism immediately noticeable to an audience of white Americans content in their complacent avoidance of over conflict. Thus he explained in his letter;

“I have struggled to stand between these two powers, saying that we need imitate neither the “do nothingism” of the contented nor the hatred and misery of the Black Nationalist… I am grateful to God that, through the authority of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became a fundamental part of our effort. If this philosophy had not materialized, by now many streets of the South would, I am persuaded, be flowing with blood,” (King, Jr., 1963).

The search for economic justice was basic to King’s undertaking. He was the voice of his generation. He is man that watched upon the great wall of discrimination and segregation to the power of non-violence protest and the power of love to his enemy. He was a Nobel Prize winner because of his long time battle to free all American people from the repression of inequality and division. Moreover, he was one of the renowned American Civil Rights leaders and a prominent supporter of non violent protest. Thus, his challenges to racial discrimination and segregation during 1950’s and 1960’s helped to encourage many white Americans to support the battle of civil rights in the United States.Although he was assassinated in 1968, the principles that he started did not stop and he became the icon of protest in the effort for civil rights and racial justice.

On the other hand, Malcolm X established in the Civil Rights Movement the principle and idea that street elements could mount to leadership in the resistance for Black liberation. He did not set up this belief by romantically ‘tailing after’ the non-violent protest. Rather, through his own life’s witness, he established that this social level was competent of self-emancipation. Malcolm X represented the apparent leadership potential of the newest level to join the Civil Rights resistance. He established that the knowledge of exploitation and deprivation at the hands of a racist system could be turned to a source of insight and emancipation through study, knowledge, morality, and self-discipline.

The source of Malcolm X’s charisma was his capability to help others split with the prototype of ruling-class thought. He was above all a enormous trainer, and his closest acquaintances consider him in that way above all else. Moreover, his lack of a formal education allowed his street community to see clearly the essence of the rational attempt without the mediation of proper academic institutions and processes. The replica of Malcolm X, the intellectual, challenged every ghetto youth to be a serious intellectual, that is, knowledgeable about her/himself and the civilization in which she or he lived. His example ordered that the fundamental nature of the intellectual effort was the unity of self-knowledge and social observance, since all acquired knowledge, he argued, established its validity only through the process of its application to making the world a better place in which to live. Thus, in his speech, The Ballot or the Bullet, he reiterated;

“No, I am not an American. I am one of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million Black people who are the fatalities of democracy, nothing but cloaked duplicity. So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver — no, not I. I’m speaking as a casualty of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare,” (Malcolm X, 1964).

Evidently, Malcolm X’s speech was shocking, vivid, graphic, visceral but always precise and never wordy. Although uttered in a language whose formal conventions were indomitable by bourgeois intellectuals, Malcolm X speech reflected the dignity inherent in the modes of enunciation of the African American masses.

Although these two famous leaders of the Civil Rights Movements are different in their styles for fighting for equality, both of them were considered to be most dominant and significant civil rights activists of the 20th century. Both of them are martyrs, who fought for the rights of Black American and gave optimism to their followers in times of distracted battle. They are considered as men who struggled to inspire strength and power to their followers so that they could defeat all the abhorrence that bounded them. Thus, they are individuals who were ahead of their time and died for their own principles to attain justice and equality among all races.

It is a given fact that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X shared related vision for Black American.  A vision that one day Black American would be able to escape from the repression of racism and prejudice, in which they where apprehended enslaved. Moreover, it is a vision that their family would be able to breathe in a society where they could not be evaluated by the color of their skin, but rather on the quality of their principles and characters. Although both of these gentlemen are diverged significantly on their philosophies and methods in which they struggled to attain their goal, they shared same endeavor. It was this principle that lay deeply in their soul that forced them to speak up to a society whose ears were not yet prepared to pay attention, and whose mentality could not extend to understand their strange and radical messages. Both of these persons are considered to be leaders in their generation but prodigies for all.

Work Cited

King, Martin Luther Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 16 April 1963.

X, Malcolm. The Ballot or the Bullet. Ohio: Cory Methodist Church. 3 April 1964.

Cite this page

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. (2016, Sep 10). Retrieved from

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