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The Impact of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X on Civil Rights Movement

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In the years from 1954 to 1968, The Civil Rights Movement was a march for social activism where African Americans united together from the South to protest for integration between whites and African Americans. Civil Rights protestors had spread all over the nation taking place in activities that broke discriminatory laws, marched for injustice, and challenged the system for an equal change. The two well known leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. Both these activists were very well known and were important voices for the African Americans speaking up against inequalities. Although they were both significant leaders in the revolution, they had contrasted each other with dissimilar attitudes towards the Civil Rights Movement and voiced opposite opinions. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were very much different because of their backgrounds growing up, their religious influences, and what they aspired the Civil Right’s outcome to be.

Martin Luther King, born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929 grew up in a religious middle class family. Having all the support, love, and faith growing up as a kid in his close family is what shaped him into the man he was. He was fortunate enough to obtain a high education where he attended Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and then Boston University where he later on received his Ph.D in philosophy. King’s upbringing was “anchored in strong African American institutions of family, church, and community” (p.4). Being involved around these values and uplifting events a child, King was rooted with a devoted and loving personality to his people. Martin Luther stated “It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family where lovely relationships were present. It is quite easy for me to lean more toward optimism than pessimism about human nature mainly because of my childhood experiences”(p.33). Malcolm X on the other hand was very different, he was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. He had a broken home and not as many opportunities as Reverend.King. His father, Earl was a baptist preacher who got shot when Malcolm was just 4 years old leaving him with his mother, Louise barely getting by. He ended up in a white foster home where he attended school until the eighth grade. He never was fortunate enough to get a higher education and went down the path of criminalization. Malcolm was involved with criminal acts such as drugs, alcohol, and gambling. He was barely surviving and later on got imprisoned for burglary. His time in jail was where religion was finally introduced and became a large influence on him to become a follower of Islam.

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Religious influence was a very important factor in both Martin Luther King’s and Malcolm X’s beliefs and speeches they gave during the Civil Rights time. Malcolm X had a baptist preacher as a father, but was taken from him at a young age, so never had the influence of religion upon him. While he was doing time in jail, Malcolm X had an awakening of a religion he discovered called NOI, known as the Nation of Islam. This was a very crucial part of his life because he says “I found Allah and the religion of Islam and it completely transformed my life”(p.33). He believed that Allah would one day “destroy white society and restore righteous Muslim world rule”(p.8). He would preach that African Americans must remove themselves entirely from the whites because they were “devils”, and if they wanted to fulfill their mission as a Muslim it was needed to escape from them. Islam’s overall goal was to separate from the whites so that blacks could be independent and purified on their own. Malcolm spread this gospel first as an inmate then as a member of society. Malcolm replaced his original last name “little” which he considered to be a slave name to “X” which stood for his lost African name. He became a NOI minister in 1953 where he started up new temples and gave his devotion as a leading disciple of Islam. His religion later on becomes the base of his speech deliveries and the back bone of why he preaches those messages to other African Americans. Martin Luther King, on the other hand was born into a Christian family where his father and grandfather were both pastors of a Baptist Church, where King later on followed their footsteps in becoming a pastor as well. He was very well rooted in his religion and was based off a background where love conquered all. He believed in Jesus, while Malcolm believed in Allah. Martin was a man of forgiveness and wanted integration between both blacks and whites, not revenge. He would “coordinate civil rights activities using mass nonviolent actions and civil disobedience across the South”(p.4). Luther’s religion believed that using love and peace to get their message across to people all over the nation regarding the mistreatment of African Americans was the positive thing to do instead of using extreme and brutal confrontation.

A major reason between why their ideas about the Civil Rights Movement were different was because they both wanted different outcomes that often competed with each other. Their gospels were the main source of where they preached their speeches from. They both had significantly different approaches when it came to proclaiming their beliefs to the African American audience. Malcolm X was an aggressive protestor that wanted to alienate all of the blacks from the whites just as he read in his NOI gospel. He states from his speech “From The Black Revolution” that took place in 1963, that “the black masses don’t want segregation nor do we want integration. What we want is complete separation”(p.69). Malcolm X wanted nothing to do with the whites, he believed his leader of Islam when he said “Just as God is going to destroyed the enslavers in the past, God is going to destroy this wicked white enslaver of our people here in America”(p.69). He believed that the white race was corrupted and evil and was set out for “divine destruction”. Martin Luther was known for being quite the contrary of Malcolm where he wanted harmony and forgiveness to bring both races together and put the past in the past. Although they were both had the similarity of rooting for equality for African Americans they were very much the opposite of what they wanted the Civil Rights Movement to be about. King’s 1966 speech Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom discusses how “violence as a strategy for social change in America is nonexistent. All the sound and fury seems but the posturing or cowards whose bold talk produces no action and signifies nothing. I am connived that for practical as well as moral reasons, nonviolence offers the only road to freedom for my people. In violent warfare, one must be prepared to face ruthlessly the fact that there will be casualties by the thousands”(p.92).

He gives this speech to announce that violence will not cure anything, it will just cause more harm to the nation. In many other speeches such as his “I Have a Dream” in 1963, he opposes Malcolm’s beliefs of dislike towards whites by preaching “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct ur struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical source with soul force”(p.105). Malcolm X was the spokesman for the Islamic community and he relied on the prophecy that the time of the white would come to an end just as his gospel said. He would call Martin Luther King foolish for his attitude towards the whites and show resentment, absolute anger and disgust towards the white race. Malcolm’s speech “From God’s Judgement of White America” that was said in 1963, states that “before God can set up his new world, the Muslim world, or world of Islam, which will be established on the principles of the truth, peace, and brotherhood, God himself must first destroy this evil Western world, the white world…a wicked world, ruled by a race of devils that preaches falsehood, practices slavery, and thrives on indecency and immortality”(p.114). A majority of Malcolm X’s speeches were very hostile and negative towards the white race and integration.

The biggest Civil Right leaders of the mid 20th century, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were speaking out on the unfair discrimination treatment that African Americans were receiving. Although both of these leaders were trying to make a change in the nation and fight for justice in the system, they were not similar in their beliefs when it came to how African Americans should treat whites, how to liberate themselves by implementing different actions, and how to stop racism as a whole. Malcolm X was a man of action where he wanted African Americans to be completely independent from whites, were violence would be needed, whereas Martin Luther King, believed that peaceful protest would have a more successful outcome of freedom. Their disagreements on why their ideas regarding the Civil Rights were different because their youth growing up in different environments, the religion they practiced, and what they had hoped for the Civil Rights Movement’s outcome to be.

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