Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X grew up in different environments. King was raised in a comfortable middle-class family where education was stressed. On the other hand, Malcolm X came from an underprivileged home. He was a self-taught man who received little schooling and rose to greatness on his own intelligence and determination. Martin Luther King was born into a family whose name in Atlanta was well established. Despite segregation, Martin Luther King’s parents ensured that their child was secure and happy. Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925 and was raised in a completely different atmosphere than King, an atmosphere of fear and anger where the seeds of bitterness were planted. The burning of his house by the Klu Klux Klan resulted in the murder of his father. His mother later suffered a nervous breakdown and his family was split up.
King’s home was almost dream-like. He was raised in a comfortable middle-class home where strong values natured his sense of self-worth. Sure, many have admired Malcolm X and Martin Luther King for the way that they preached. “Both King and Malcolm X promoted self-knowledge and respect for one’s history and culture as the basis for unity.” (253) Other than the fact that they were similar in some ways, they also had many differences that people admired, both in belief and speech.
Malcolm X had been misled all through his life. This can be shown especially at the time when he broke away from the black Muslim party, because he realized that they were misleading him by telling him that separatism between blacks and whites is the only way to go. They also misled him by telling him that separatism is a part of the Islamic religion. Malcolm X’s life was known to many as a nightmare because he was abused and haunted by both blacks and whites. Malcolm X blamed many of the conditions that blacks in the United States lived in on the whites. He also talked about how the white man still sees the black man as a slave.
Martin Luther King appeared to many, as calm and idealistic. Many say his calmness came from his peaceful, middle-class life. For instance, King preached about equality for blacks and whites. He also preached about getting this equality through a non-violent way. King’s popularity was more than any other black leader’s popularity. “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 matter,” (Dyson, 255)
King’s philosophies presented a sharp contrast to those of Malcolm X. He believed that through hard work, strong leadership, and non-violent tactics, blacks could achieve full equality with whites. His belief in non-violence even extended to a woman who nearly killed him. He was reported as saying, “don’t persecute her, get her healed,” (Patterson, 52).
Near the end of their lives, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s beliefs became more similar. Malcolm X corrected himself after his break with the black Muslim movement. He now emphasized unity and change through black pride and respect for oneself rather than through hate and revenge. King, on the other hand, became somewhat angry at the lack of progress made on equality. He started promoting non-violent sabotage, which including blocking the normal functioning of government. At one time, Malcolm X actually wanted “to join forces with King and the progressive elements of the Civil Rights Movement,” (Clarke, 262).
The speeches of King and X reflected both men’s visions on improving America. Both men believed that if blacks were to attain freedom, they first needed to achieve self-respect. However, Malcolm X’s speeches were delivered in a revolutionary tone which could incite his listeners to hatred of white America. Malcolm X used direct and to the point language, which could be understood by all levels of society. “He had mastery in language and could project his ideas,”. This creativity in language helped build the Black Muslim Movement in the United States. In his “Definition of a Revolution” speech, delivered in November 1963, Malcolm X openly justifies violence as a way of gaining equality. “And if it is right for America to draft us and teach us how to be violent in defense of the country, then isn’t it right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country,” (Clarke, 253).
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are both remembered as leaders who fought for a difference in black America. Both tried to bring hope to blacks in the United States. They also tried to instill within blacks power and strength so they could rise above all the hatred that surrounded them, but both of them had very different ways of promoting their message. Malcolm X had a much more extremist approach. Many say that this approach came from his neglectful childhood and early adulthood. King had a much more calm approach. Some have said that this non-violent approach came from his safe, middle-class environment. Even though they were different in addressing their messages about black respect and pride, they both had the same goal in mind. That goal was to achieve equality between all races.
Clarke, John Henrik; Malcolm X : The Man and His Times
Dyson, Michael Eric; Reflecting Black : African-American Cultural Criticism (American Culture, Vol 9); Univ of Minnesota Pr; May 1993
Malcolm X The Movie; Directed by Spike Lee; 1992
Patterson, Lillie; Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement (Makers of America); South End Press, 1982.