Martin Luther King Jr. & Malcolm X

by Elaina Covey


King was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. He grew up in a very religious household and later went on to become an ordained minister in 1945. MLK's upbringing had a large impact on how he would fight for civil rights. Growing up King's father greatly discouraged class superiority which left him with a lifelong impression that would affect the movement to come. His religious background left him with the belief that racial prejudice and segregation was "an affront to God's will" ( Editors).

After Rosa Parks' arrest in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. met with the head of the local chapter for the NAACP. They talked with other civil rights leaders which led to King being elected to lead a city-wide bus boycott. The community held out for 382 under King's leadership and finally the city lifted the law that enforced segregation in public transportation. Following this win MLK and other civil rights leaders founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 in order to organize and promote non-violent protests and demonstrations. His success as a leader gained him national attention and by 1963 he was able to rally over 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial where he gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech".

Malcolm X began his civil rights work as a member of the nation of Islam and during his time as a spokesperson for the group its size grew substantially. He held onto a belief that in order for African Americans to succeed, a state separate from white Americans was necessary. He encouraged blacks to revolutionize and stressed the point that there is no such thing as a nonviolent revolution. This was very different from King's goal of peacefully achieving an integrated society.

in 1964, Malcolm split from the Nation of Islam after learning of his mentor's adultery. During his time he also made a trip to Mecca where he joined traditional Islam and began to change his ideologies. He transitioned to a more hopeful outlook, accepting the possibility of a bloodless revolution in America in which blacks could still rise up. However before this could be explored further he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

Martin Luther King Junior

Malcolm X

Compare and Contrast

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Junior both wished to achieve a society in which African Americans could live free from social and economic exploitation. Although the two had different ideas the main goal was similar. They were also both able to reach out to large audiences and boost the morale of so many people who had for so long passively accepted their place in society. Through strong charismatic oratory skills and infectious passion, the movement owes much of its mobility to these two men.

The two men however, did follow two very different religions, King being a southern Baptist and Malcolm a Muslim. They also had to very different ideas concerning how the movement should go. While King wished for a peaceful integrated society achieved through nonviolent activism and protest, Malcolm X believed a separate state was necessary in order for blacks to become independant. He was also open to violent protest if it became necessary. While King may be revered more in history, Malcolm X gave rise to the black power movement and boosted the self esteem of many African Americans of the time.

Despite their differences the two men shared much in common and gained national recognition for their work in the civil rights movement. Both were compassionate and empowering and inspired so many people. Many Americans owe many of the rights the enjoy today to the extraordinary work of these two men.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Mini Bio
Martin Luther King's Last Speech: "I've Been To The Mountaintop"
Malcolm X - Mini Bio