Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcolm X: The Heroes Of Civil Rights

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“I believe if you keep your faith, you keep your trust, you keep the right attitude, if you’re grateful, you’ll see God open up new doors.” (Osteen). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. supported nonviolent direct action and opposition to authority, especially a refusal to cooperate with legal requirements, to successfully reach equal civil rights. Malcolm X was the voice for the Nation of Islam (NOI), the black Muslim movement, which in a vigorous manner dismissed and refused to agree to white America and its Christian importance, and publicly proclaim the status of blacks over whites. The similarities and differences of the two men, and the main points in their lives that got them to where they were as black Civil Right leaders, will be discussed. Even though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are two very known men till this day, there are still unknown little things that played a major part in their vision as well.

Most people think that the meaning behind Dr. King and Malcolm X’s purpose was the same, but it wasn’t. Though the purpose is the same, which was to get equality for black people, the meaning was different. Dr. King meant to show that black people can get what is right by fighting with peace and by being nonviolent, but Malcolm X wanted to show that they are not afraid to stand up for what they deserve, by encouraging black self-defence (Bartleby). The two men only met once at a 1964 civil rights hearing at Washington, even though their encounter was only for a split second, their interaction was a symbol of reconciliation (Brown). Before that Malcolm thought that King’s movement was just teaching black people on how to be defenceless against “… the most cruel beasts that has ever taken a people into captivity. That’s just the American white man.” (Jazeera) Though Martin never responded to Malcolm’s taunts, after Malcolm was assassinated, he did address that, “Malcolm did play a role in pointing out the problem and calling attention to it, but had his own problem, and that was an inability to emerge with a solution.” They were two legendary figures with opposing meanings behind their vision, “Malcolm X represented the fire and fight that refuses, to let define who black people are, and Dr. King represented our desire to get along with everybody, including the whites.” (Jazeera).

One thing that played a really big part on how Martin and Malcolm viewed their plans on rising above the foolishness and mistreatments towards the black community, was something that they both shared without knowing it. Also, the way they were going to execute those plans, was their background and their early/childhood life (Gwen). Although the two men had very different experiences in their young life, no matter how big of a difference, their background was the main driving force to their goal. Making a change and fixing the same problem, to decrease and stop discrimination. It’s because of the different backgrounds that Dr. King is more visionary than Malcolm X, because King saw the bigger picture and saw what could happen, while Malcolm saw what was and just reacted to reactions.

Growing up in a “holy” household, and having both of your parents believe in nonviolent resistance to racism, was a big contribution in striving for a nonviolent movement. Dr. King grew up in a house where his parents believed in God and went to church. His father was a minister and a bold advocate of racial equality, and his mother was a daughter of a reverend (Peake). As a kid, Martin was an excellent student and had a sense of independence, he was able to skip two grades and enter college at the age of fifteen (Klein). During his studies, King went on to deepen his knowledge about the nonviolent reformism of Mohandas Gandhi. It’s because of Gandhi that really pushed Dr. King to find the key to combine his Christian faith and passion for helping others, and to not waste it by putting it into good use.

Malcolm X’s early life background compared nowhere near Martin’s. It started off very rough, with his father being killed when Malcolm was still very young, and strongly believed to be killed by white supremacists. His mother had mental health issues and was institutionalized, and the children in the family was spread out among foster homes (Greenspan). Malcolm dropped out of school in the eighth grade, even though he was an excellent student, because of the racial discrimination he was experiencing from his teachers (Mamiya). Later on in his life he was imprisoned for burglary in 1946, and his time in prison would reflect on his point of view later in his life.

In the late 1955, Dr. King was drawn to his first significance civil rights activism. The first day in December, Rosa Parks was ordered by the bus driver to give up her seat in the front of the bus to a white man. When she refused, that started a 381 day bus boycott that led for the US Supreme Court to make a decision about declaring the segregated transit system unconstitutional (Christopher). Martin was known for taking many historical trends and making them his own. He was an author to many books, speeches, and articles. He gave black Americans hope and guided them in effective direct-action campaigns.

Malcolm X was an American leader in the Nation of Islam who connected the concepts of race pride and black nationalism. His part in the Black Power movement was a very big role,

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he came up with many ideas, like race pride and self-defence, and that became a collection of belief and values for the Black Power movement that carried in the 1960s and ‘70s. Malcolm, being the voice of the Black Muslim faith, had a purpose (Garraty). Which was to challenge the civil rights movement and the nonviolent movement pursuit by Dr. King, by urging his followers to defend themselves against the whites and their aggressiveness “by any means necessary”. Malcolm changed his last name to X, because he wanted to signify his rejection of his “slave” name (Foner).

One of many things that people know Dr. King for is his “I Have A Dream” speech. Even though that was not his first speech at the Lincoln Memorial, six years before making his iconic speech, King presented his first national address on the topic of voting rights for black people. Although that was the speech that drew him to take leadership of the civil rights, his “I Have A Dream” speech was the one that made Dr. King memorable. In that iconic speech at the Lincoln Memorial, he talked about marching on Washington for jobs and freedom in 1963. King wanted to constantly to persuade America to “make real the promises of democracy.” (‘I Have a Dream,’ Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom). King talked about little portions of his speeches he gave earlier to emphasize both the necessity for difference and the potential for hope in America society.

On June 29, 1963, one of the largest civil rights event was led by Malcolm X, known as the Unity Rally in Harlem. He wanted to mainly focus on Harlem, because Harlem had a massive black population. During the gathering, Malcolm mostly focused on making all black people no matter their religious background, social class, or political views, to make them whole and seem as one (Osuji). He was very big on being unified amongst his African American peers, and how that was one of the most important steps in getting what they wanted, he saw that as “Perfect Freedom.” While Malcolm was making his speech he acknowledged that “leaders all have their differences…” but also believed that those same differences were the real reason on how serious division is caused among black people (Osuji). Towards the end of his speech he shared that blacks as a whole should never hold each other back and make things harder especially if we should be working hand in hand to achieve something that they both believe in. The rally in Harlem really helped out Malcolm rebuild his connection with many of his political peers, he accomplished strengthening his ties with other important civil rights leaders.

In January 1965, Malcolm revealed in one of his interviews that the Organization of African American Unity (OAAU) would “support fully and without compromise any action by any group that is designed to get meaningful immediate results”. He wanted civil right groups to unite together, telling a gathering at a symposium sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, “We want freedom now, but we’re not going to get it saying ‘We Shall Overcome.’ We’ve got to fight to overcome” (Malcolm X). King was jailed in Selma, Alabama in the early 1965, Malcolm traveled to Selma to have a private meeting with Coretta Scott King, Martin’s wife. Malcolm made it clear that he didn’t just travel to Selma to make Martin’s job harder, as he was assuring Coretta, but he also said that he didn’t go over there thinking that he could or was going to make it any easier either (Malcolm X). He went on to say, “If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King”. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965, just a few weeks after his visit to Selma, King addressed his murder a “great tragedy” and expressed his feeling of regret that it “occurred at a time when Malcolm X was … moving toward a greater understanding of the nonviolent movement”. He believed that Malcolm’s murder deprived “the world of a potentially great leader”.

Malcolm’s bestselling book, ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’, emphasized his ideas on black youth. Then laid the foundation for the Black Power movement in the late 1960s and ‘70s, and it was published after he was assassinated. Just one week after his home was firebombed in New York City, Malcolm X was shot to death by rival Black Muslim members, while speaking at a rally addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York City (Malcolm X assassinated). Some speculate that the FBI had a tip about Malcolm X’s assassination and turned away from it, since the FBI surveillanced his every move because of a letter Malcolm wrote to President Harry Truman. In the letter he declared himself as a Communist opposed to the Korean War, while he was imprisoned. Malcolm’s death signaled the beginning of unnecessary battles involving proponents, like Dr. King and himself.

April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. was shot dead while he was standing on a balcony outside of his second floor room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The

news of King’s assassination caused many outbreaks of anger in racial violence, and resulted in 40 deaths nationwide (Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.). A 40-year-old escaped fugitive, James Earl Ray, later confessed to the crime of killing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was sentenced to a 99-year prison term (Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.). A tape recording was played during King’s funeral, in which King spoke of how he wanted to be remembered after his death, “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others”.

Dr. King and Malcolm X both wanted justice and equal rights for black people in America, and they were both seen as representations of black freedom struggle. They are known for their power and influence on African Americans in the United States history. Even though they both had different ways of gaining justice and equality, Martin and Malcolm were admired by others for their ways of fighting for freedom (Ebjohn). With their successes also came many failures, but both were known for still standing strong. King and X had a large group of followers, and their people believed in them and for what they stood for. The people of the black community wanted to be led by fighters for change. Although they knew that change would not come with ease, that didn’t stop their faith, determination, or passion for making a difference (Ebjohn). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X wanted acceptance for black people, but most importantly wanted freedom. Although they had two very different ideas of getting those things for African Americans, they still were eager and had the same desire.

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