comparing and contrasting two of the greats

Behind the smoke and mirrors

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is widely considered the most influential leader of the American civil rights movement. He fought to overturn Jim Crow segregation laws and eliminate social and economic differences between blacks a whites as peacefully as possible. He was born Michael Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. His grandfather began the family's long tenure as pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until present, and from 1960 until his death MLK Jr. acted as co-pastor.

Through his activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. Although he was assassinated in April of 1968, he continues to be remembered as one of the most lauded African-American leaders in history, often referenced by his 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream."

Articulate, passionate and a naturally gifted and inspirational orator, Malcolm X exhorted blacks to cast off the shackles of racism, "by any means necessary," including violence. He was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 and his father was murdered by white supremacists, which led to a lot of hatred later on in life. His family then moved to Boston and he got into petty crime that ended with a ten year sentence in 1946, of which he served 7 of those ten.

He eventually adopted the placeholder of "X" as his last name because he felt Little was a slave name forced upon him. His ideals centered around the belief that whites were devils that robbed African-Americans of their true homeland, names, and religion. By 1963, the New York Times reported that Malcolm X was the second most sought after speaker in the United States and led the Unity Rally in Harlem later the same year. It was one of the nations largest civil rights events and by the end of his life, Malcolm X had become an international leader, sought after to help push the movement. Much like Dr. King, he was assassinated in February of 1965.

Both men faced many obstacles on their journey to freedom and though they aren't around to see the good their impact caused, they paved the way for the equality we've come to live with and their assassinations sparked the movement to continue rolling well into present times.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Malcolm X

Two roads, one destination

No two men are the same and this is a commonly accepted fact, though that doesn't mean either man is at fault or better than the other; simply different. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are very prominent African American individuals throughout history. They had the same goals in mind and fought for what they stood for but in many different ways. One man advocated equality through peaceful means while the other advocated the same ideal "by any means necessary".

It can be argued that the beliefs of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X originate from their childhoods. They were very different, given that Dr. King lived in a very comfortable middle class home while Malcolm X experienced the worst of an underprivileged home. King was very educated, while Malcolm X was self-taught after what little schooling he had received. King actually came from a family who was well-known in their area of Atlanta, while Malcolm X didn't even seem to exist.

Their approaches towards each other were unexpected as well. Dr. King once said, "You know, right before he was killed he came down to Selma and said some pretty passionate things against me, and that surprised me because after all it was my territory there. But afterwards he took my wife aside, and said he thought he could help me more by attacking me than praising me. He thought it would make it easier for me in the long run." And I believe that speaks to the fact that though they differed in their methods, they ultimately wanted to reach equality- together. In fact, Malcolm X said himself that, "Dr. King wants the same thing I want -- freedom!"

As for myself, I believe the movement may have stayed at a standstill without a figure like either one of them. Every revolution, every push for change, needs a spark. Even if that spark means violence. However without a water or something to calm the fire, it will burn out of control. Peace and violence work hand in hand in these situations. And it worked out for the best considering where we are now as a society.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Mini Bio
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Remembered -- National Geographic video
Malcolm X - Mini Bio
Malcolm X: Life and Death

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