Advertisement

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King
From Al Jazeera - July 16, 2017

A half-century after their deaths, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X remain two of the world's most revered political activists.

They were both respectedleaders of the American Civil Rights movement, struggling for racial equality and freedom. But at the start of the 1960s, the media were constructing a conflict that stirred the civil rights debate: Malcolm X versus Reverend Martin Luther King.

WhileKing advocated non-violent direct action and passive resistance to achieve equal civil rights,Malcolm X was the spokesman for the Nation of Islam (NOI), the black Muslim movement which violently rejected white America and its Christian values, and preached the supremacy of blacks over whites.

He promoted a segregationist approach that sought to instil in blacks a pride in their African heritage, whereas Martin Luther King believed that self-respect would come through integration.

"King was working to take down signs that prevented black people from riding buses where they wanted to, and to ride in train public transportations, prevented them from voting, and all of those things that black people were prevented from doing in the south. In the north, blacks always could vote, but as Malcolm said 'You may have the vote but you ai not no voting for nothing because they have already decided that you are not going to have any power'," explainshistorian James H. Cone.

King once told the press that "the method of non-violent resistance is one of the most potent, if not the most potent weapons available to oppressed people and their struggle for freedom."

However, for Malcolm, turning the other cheek was a weak strategy that was unacceptable.

"Malcolm comes from a black nationalist tradition that does not believe that you can get your freedom, your self-respect, your dignity by simply letting somebody beat up on you, and you do not try to defend yourself. That's why Malcolm emphasised self-defence. But King emphasised non-violence because if blacks had responded, tried to defend themselves, that would have brought the police department down on those demonstrators and whites would have loved to have the chance to kill black people indiscriminately. So King and Malcolm had that tension," says Cone.

Malcolm X regularly criticised King, accusing him of bowing to whites and subjugating blacks to the very culture that had historically denigrated and abused them.

"The white man pays Reverend Martin Luther King, subsidises Reverend Martin Luther King, so that Reverend Martin Luther King can continue to teach the negroes to be defenceless. That's what you mean by non-violent: be defenceless. Be defenceless in the face of one of the most cruel beasts that has ever taken a people into captivity. That's just the American white man," Malcolm X said.

Advertisement

Continue reading at Al Jazeera »