1925 – 1965
Malcolm X was one of the most important African American civil rights leaders during the 1960s. Malcolm was one of the prominent members of the Nation of Islam, which he joined shortly after he was released from prison. His Muslim name was El-Haji Malik El Shabazz. He later changed his name to Malcolm X shortly after a meeting with Elijah Muhammad, with the X representing the rejection of slave names that had been taken by African Americans in the United States. He felt that whites were like “the devil” and that blacks needed to return to the top of the social order. Malcolm also heavily promoted Black Nationalism. He ran into controversy after he made a comment about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He said that the situation was like the “chickens coming home to roost.” He also said that “chickens coming home to roost never made me sad. It only made me glad.” The Nation of Islam banned him from speaking for ninety days over this incident. Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, which was known as the Hajj. Upon returning, he engaged in more conflict with the Nation of Islam, who successfully sued to have him and his family removed from his home. During a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, New York, in 1965, he was shot and killed by three men.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1929 – 1968
Martin Luther King was one of the most influential leaders during the civil rights movement. He was known for being a successful Baptist minister and started work on the civil rights movement early in his career. In addition, he practiced the policy of civil disobedience, in which he would organize peaceful, nonviolent protests. The first major issue he tackled was leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which he organized a protest of the Montgomery transportation system after Rosa Parks was jailed for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. When the transportation system was eventually desegregated, King helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was the group’s first president. During this time, he protested the Southern Jim Crow laws, stating that they were morally wrong and should be outlawed. He organized the March on Washington in 1963, where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. For his efforts in the civil rights movement after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he was the youngest person to ever be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. James Earl Ray assassinated him in 1968.
While Malcolm X and Martin Luther King might have had different philosophies on their approaches on getting equal rights for African Americans, they had many similarities as they were trying to achieve that equality. Interestingly enough, toward the end of both men’s lives, their philosophies began to change. Martin Luther King began to wonder if peaceful demonstrations were still able to get the African American man’s point across. Malcolm X, shortly after he has returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca, began to alter his viewpoint. He believed that violence in situations was not the answer, and that in order for African Americans to achieve equality, they would have to do so in a peaceful manner. Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were assassinated, with Malcolm being killed by members of his former Nation of Islam, and King being slain by assassin James Earl Ray. When Malcolm X was killed, King sent a letter to Malcolm’s wife, stating that while the two had never seen eye-to-eye, King always had affection for Malcolm X because of his ability to point out a problem and readily try to fix it.
After completing the reading, answer the following questions. Be sure to include textual evidence to support your responses.
1. How did the philosophies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King differ early on in their lives?
2. How did the philosophies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King change toward the end of their lives?
3. How were the fates of Malcolm and King similar?