Martin Luther King Jr. vs Malcolm X

Similarities and Differences

Background Information

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr lived life as a Baptist minister and social activist who advocated for the civil rights of everyone and demanded racial equality. Born on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr was born to Michael King Sr., a pastor, and Alberta Williams King. He was the middle child, growing up in a loving and secure environment. Martin Luther King Jr. attended Booker T. Washington High School where he skipped bother ninth and eleventh grades and entered college at Morehouse College in Atlanta at the age of 15 in 1944. In his junior year, King took a Bible class and renewed his faith, beginning his wishes to start a career in the ministry and finalized the decision by telling his father during his senior year. In 1948, Martin Luther King Jr. earned a sociology degree and attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania where he was thriving in his studies and becoming the valedictorian of his class, even being elected student body president in 1951. King enrolled in Boston University to obtain his doctorate degree which he completed in 1955 when he was only 25 years old.


When it comes to civil rights, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 was his entrance into the movement’s influence. On December 1, 1955, 42-year-old Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white man. Parks was arrested and charged in violation of the Montgomery City Code. The organizers of this event, the NAACP, met with Martin Luther King Jr and other local civil rights leaders to discuss city-wide plans of the boycott against the segregation on buses. Easily, King was elected to head the boycott due to his family connections, professional standing, and how young he was. King also had few enemies because of how new he was to the community which led the NAACP to believe he would have strong credibility amongst the black community.King, in his first speech as the NAACP’s president, declared, “We have no alternative but to protest. For many years, we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.” His freshness into the movement gave the civil rights struggle a revival. The boycott lasted 282 days until the city of Montgomery lifted the segregation on public transportation.


In January 1957, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and 60 ministers and civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Their main goal was to organize the black churches in the South to conduct non-violent protests through the south to promote racial equality. In February 1958, the SCLC had more than 20 mass meetings in key cities to register black voters while King met with religious and civil rights leaders and spoke all over the country on his viewpoints. In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama with the event ending in King’s ultimate arrest. The protest gained national attention and showed the family’s at home the harshness against colored people. At the end of the demonstration, King arranged to march on the nation’s capital on August 28, 1963, which drew more than 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial. Here, King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which emphasized his dreams all men could be intertwined without any discrimination. However, with many accomplishments there must be setbacks. Martin Luther King Jr. organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 7, 1965, which turned violent and was broadcasted live on television. Two marches were then canceled closely after due to fears of a worse outcome than before. Instead of confrontation on March 9, 1965, King influenced his followers to kneel and pray to avoid confrontation. While focusing the movement in the South, from 1965 to 1967, King broadened his horizons and expanded the Civil Rights Movement into cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, however meeting increasing criticism from the youth due to his nonviolent approach, which many thought to be weak. Eventually, King linked racism and poverty to expand their movements support and also addressed economic and unemployment problems of all people at a disadvantage in the United States. Unfortunately, in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated overlooking his balcony by a sniper rifle. King’s legacy lives on today as racial conflicts and equality are still a recurring issue. His nonviolent ways have become admirable on all fronts and continue to inspire people to take a stand.


Malcolm X was an African-American leader in the 1950s and ‘60s as well as a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam. Born on May 19, 1925, Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was the fourth of eight children in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl Little, was a preacher who was an active member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This caused frequent harassment at the Little home as the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Legion and instilled fear on Malcolm at a young age. The KKK had smashed all of the windows in the house and prompted the family to move to Earl Lansing, Michigan, where the racism was far worse than they thought. Shortly after the Littles had settled into their new home in 1929, a mob set their house on fire and all of the responders refused to do anything. Malcolm X had recalled, “The white police and firemen came and stood around watching as the house burned to the ground”. In 1931, Earl Little’s body was discovered laid out on train tracks. Despite the constant death threats at the Little home, Earl’s death was ruled a suicide, leaving the large life insurance policy he had purchased to grow dust. The shock of his father’s death left his mother in permanent grief and was committed to a mental institution in 1937, leaving Malcolm home to live with family friends. Malcolm had dropped out of school at the age of 15 after telling his English teacher to be realistic and tell people to plan on being a carpenter instead of a lawyer.


Upon quitting school, Malcolm moved to Boston to live with his sister, Ella, who landed Malcolm a job shining shoes. Quickly, Malcolm became acquainted with the cities convicts and later began selling drug which financed his extravagant lifestyle. However, in 1946, Malcolm was arrested on charges of larceny and sentenced to ten years in jail. During his incarceration, he read constantly, making up for his missed education. He was swayed to join the Nation of Islam when visited by several siblings who told him there was a small sector of black Muslims that embraced black culture. While in prison, Malcolm converted to the Nation of Islam and abandoned his surname “Little” upon his release in 1952, and left his last name as “X”. Malcolm traveled to Detroit, Michigan where he worked alongside Elijah Muhammad to expand the movement’s followers among black Americans. He became a minister in Harlem and in Boston while founding temples in Hartford and Philadelphia. In 1960, Malcolm created Muhammad Speaks”, a national newspaper used to further promote the Nation of Islam’s message to the American people.


Malcolm X began encouraging African-Americans to dissolve racism in their cities by any means necessary, including violence. Malcolm said, “You don’t have a peaceful revolution. You don’t have a turn-the-cheek revolution. There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” He began gaining a following of the militant individuals who were criticizing Dr. King’s tactics while receiving loads of criticism. Due to mostly Malcolm, the Nation of Islam saw a growth of 400 members in 195 to 40,000 members by 1960. By the early 1960s, Malcolm had emerged as a leading voice of the “Black Power” wing of the Civil Rights movement, presenting the most alternative counterpart to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a nonviolent integration into society. In 1963, Malcolm became confused when he discovered his hero, Elijah Muhammad, was hypocritical in his teachings and did not follow them, mostly by the carrying of affairs outside of his marriage. That, and the anger Muhammad had with Malcolm after the assassination of John F. Kennedy led Malcolm to leave the Nation of Islam late 1964. In the same year, he embarked on a trip to North Africa and the Middle East, which proved to be a political and spiritual turning point in Malcolm’s life. While there, Malcolm had made the Hajj, or the pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he converted to traditional Islam and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Upon his return, Malcolm was more optimistic and less angry and realized a peaceful resolution was possible for America’s racial issues. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was about to deliver a speech when three gunmen ran to the podium and shot Malcolm 15 times at point blank range. Pronounced dead on arrival, Malcolm was remembered short after for his pre-transformation teachings and criticized post mortem. His greatest contribution was demonstrating the lengths to which a man would go to secure the simple right for his freedom.

Who Had a Better Approach?

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, in the 1950s and 1960s, were both fighting for Civil Rights but in two total different ways. Malcolm X, a black muslim leader, believed the white people who ordered around the colored people around were to blame. He strongly encouraged colored people to be reluctant and wary of intermingling with white people. In regards to the White House, Malcolm X constantly said the black people were in constant oppression and it was only fair to allow them to defend themselves against unjust violence and hate crime, going so far as to say, “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” With the Civil Rights Movement seeing little to no change, Malcolm X thought the progression of the movement was insignificant and that changes needed to happen as there was little to no progress on the case of desegregation throughout the South and parts of the North. Overall, he believed violence should be used as a force against the white people whether it was self defense of the African American people or provoking them. Throughout his political career, Malcolm X strived for African American people to take charge of their own lives and remain independent of the white men that tarnished them.


Martin Luther King Jr., on the other hand, had more peaceful ideals. A leader of the Southern Christian Leadership, King believed no one was to blame for the poor treatment of the African American people. He popularly envisioned a life for his children where white and black people could be intermingled throughout society and could work together for this future peacefully to achieve societal unity. When asked about his plans to get back at the White House, Martin Luther King Jr. stressed to keep calm and make your voices heard through a noble and peaceful way rather than letting the Man get to you and fighting back. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.” Through his ideals, King also stated the productive and effective change requires ultimate patience of mankind because altering someone else’s mindset will take time and instantaneous changes will not have a lasting impression on the fast pace of man. With all of his peaceful views, he also believed the opposition towards desegregation deserved to be done on the higher road of dignity and discipline.


In my opinion, I think Martin Luther King Jr. had a better approach for achieving civil rights for all as opposed to that of Malcolm X. Martin Luther King’s peaceful ways of protest had gotten the nation’s attention, especially in contrast to the violent ways of the South onto the African American people. With his approach, laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were passed and gave African Americans legal backing in the courts, something they had never had before. Malcolm X hadn’t had a movement strong enough for an extended period of time like King had and hadn’t seen any clear results from his plans for civil rights. In an article entitled “Malcolm and Martin, closer than we ever thought” by John Blake, CNN, Blake writes, “Yet near the end of his life, Malcolm X was becoming more like King -- and King was becoming more like him. ‘In the last years of their lives, they were starting to move toward one another,’ says David Howard-Pitney…’While Malcolm is moderating from his earlier position, King is becoming more militant’” (Blake). The two men were two very different men with similar life paths but with the death of Malcolm X early in his career and shortly after his ideals changed, the two men’s movements never crossed and moved towards progression of the African American people as one.

Martin Luther King, Jr. "I have a dream" Full speech (1963 Washington)
Martin Luther King's Last Speech: "I've Been To The Mountaintop"
Malcolm X's Famous Speech After Returning From Mecca
Malcolm X - In RARE form (tv interview)

Emily Yearwood

I'm basically the best person you're ever gonna meet. That's all you need to know.