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MARTIN LUTHER KING AND MALCOLM X – A STUDY IN CONTRAST

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X meet bef...

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X meet

Introduction: This paper presents the contrasts in the personalities and achievements of the two heavyweights of the African-American liberation movement in the America of the 1960’s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Outline: This paper proceeds in the following pattern: it traces the differences between the two leaders in relation to three vital areas: their early life, their political ideologies, and their legacies. In view of the limited space allotted for this study, a detailed biographical account is not made in this paper, which restricts itself to only the major aspects of divergence between the two personalities.

Analysis: On the surface, there seem some commonalities between the two titans of the civil rights era: to start with, the most striking similarity, of course, is that both believed in Black liberation. Secondly, apart from being contemporaries, they both lived an exactly identical life span –39 years. Then, the end came for both men in the same manner –the assassin’s bullets. (Adams)

However, a more perceptive reading suggests that there existed more variance than convergence between the two in all areas of significance:

Early life: The two had extremely different circumstances of early life and upbringing. King was born into an average middle class, clerical family in Atlanta, Georgia. For him, piety was imbibed from birth, mainly because of the family he was born into. In his Autobiography of Religious Development, he has revealed that spirituality was a way of life for him, and that it came quite naturally, stating: “It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present.” (Cone 19) Malcolm’s upbringing could not have been more diametrically different: born in Nebraska four years earlier than King, he had an impoverished and turbulent childhood, was a typical product of the racial divide of the time, and had the misfortune of being cast into a violent and spiteful early and adolescent life as a street thug. (Sales 31)

Political philosophy: The deep differences in their political philosophy are an example of the extent to which their formative years impacted their adult life: King drew inspiration from the champion nonpareil of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi, who, without so much as lifting his little finger, had brought the behemoth of British imperialism crumbling down. Apart from an unswerving commitment in theory and practice to nonviolence, both Gandhi and King drew from the core ideals of their respective religions. If the Mahatma embodied the tolerance and spiritual expansiveness of Hinduism in all its depth, King was the practitioner of the quintessential Christian virtues of inclusiveness, compassion and forgiveness. (Lischer 53) On the other hand, Malcolm despised the religion he was born into, frequently cursed and spat on the Book of God, deserted Christianity, (Malcolm X) and was vehemently committed to a policy of racial exclusiveness and separatism. His beliefs were based on the ‘eye for an eye’ doctrine. (Adams)

Legacy: Another area that characterized the sharp difference between the two related to their legacies.  If King was to bequeath to future generations of African Americans a legacy of nonviolence, a principle to which he swore till the end, the crowning glory of which was the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, a year after winning the Time’s ‘Man of the Year’ award, (Cone 86) Malcolm left behind a legacy that was as tormented as his life and principles. The Black Muslim cult excommunicated him for his acrid views on Kennedy’s assassination, and his attempt to break free from his mentor, Elijah Mohammed tore the very movement he led into two. (Massaquoi)

Written By Ravindra G Rao

Works Cited

 

 

Adams, Russell, L., Martin and Malcolm, Two 20th Century Giants. July 22, 2005. <http://00430f5.netsolhost.com/african/giants2000-2nd.shtml>

 

Cone, James H. A Dream or a Nightmare. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992.

 

Lischer, Richard. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word That Moved America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Malcolm X, July 22, 2005, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X#Death_and_afterwards>

 

Massaquoi, Hans J. “Mystery of Malcolm X.” Ebony Feb. 1993: 36+. Questia. 22 July 2005 <http://www.questia.com/>.

 

Sales, William W. From Civil Rights to Black Liberation Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Boston: South End Press, 1994.

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