“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Minister Malcolm X: Two Black leaders who used different Strategies and Tactics “
By Fahim A. Knight-El
Thesis Statement: King and Malcolm X were deeply committed to the same cause of social justice, but they chose different leadership techniques to accomplish their goals of liberating the African American race.
This article came about as a Black History report assignment for a humanities class that my daughter is taking in middle school she is an eighth grader. I have blogged on the subject of Minister Malcolm X and here is the link to that article titled, “Minister Malcolm X: Like it or Not” http://fahimknightsworld.blogspot.com/2008/05/minister-malcolm-x-like-it-or-not-1925.html and I have also blogged on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. http://fahimknightsworld.blogspot.com/2009/01/dr-martin-luther-king-jr-stood-tall-and.html and wrote a second article on Dr. King http://www.dailygrail.com/blogs/fahim-knight/2008/1/Dr-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Revolutionary-Happy-Birthday-Giant. In addition, I have written a definitive article on the Nation of Islam http://fahimknightsworld.blogspot.com/2008/06/nation-of-islam-concise-history-true.html. I cited these links as proof and documentation that I am not a novice to these subjects and this article might appear quite shallow to some and yet informative to others, but those who desire more in depth knowledge then I refer you to the various links I cited above.
Let met state for the record that in my home we study and celebrate African history /black history 365 days of the year. It represents the oldest history ever recorded throughout the annals of time and I think to celebrate and commemorate the oldest human history in February which is the shortest month of the year is absurd and insidious to make any attempt to cram this marvelous history in 29 days. This month was chosen by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month in honor of the birthdays of Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln who were both born in February (Reference link: http://fahimknightsworld.blogspot.com/2010/02/black-history-month-is-it-still.html). My daughter was asked to do a position paper on contrasting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Minister Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik Shabazz) views. I was personally inspired by Minister Malcolm X, it was his autobiography, “Autobiography of Malcolm X” told to Alex Haley that changed my world perspective.
I viewed Minister Malcolm X as one who was uncompromising with the system of oppression and his ideas were tailored made for me. I was not interested in going along with the status quo and living a life of not creating any waves—my environment dictated that there were many reasons I should be fighting for social justice and for the liberation of black people. Our communities were/are deteriorating because of economic, political and social disparity—gang violence, dilapidated schools, teenage pregnancy, high unemployment, the working poor, lack of industry, sellout ‘Negro’ leadership, homelessness and other ethnic groups controlling the economic markets (mom and pop business) in the black community—Arabs (Koreans, Vietnamese, Latinos, Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Italians, Iranians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc.) from war torn Palestine have replaced the Jews as the merchants of death in the black community, they now represent the bloodsuckers of the poor. They claim Islam and profess to be Muslims, yet they sell our people pork, alcohol, tobacco and bad processed foods. These damnable hypocrites build Mosques and Masjids in the black community and strut as though they are sanctimonious, but I know that in many of these Muslim hypocrites’ native countries they would be killed under Sharia Law for the above type of behavior, which would be deemed un-Islamic conduct. Minister Malcolm X sided with the black oppressed and openly challenged the white establishment to respect their ex-slave master’s children. My inner being told me that Minister Malcolm X was correct because he articulated our present and historical pain he made it difficult for us to overlook 310 years of slavery and dehumanization. He was perhaps one of the best students that Honorable Elijah Muhammad ever trained—his level of activism pricked the conscious of America and I personally admired his defiance. Minister Malcolm X will always be one of my heroes because he stood up in a time in history when it was not popular.
In my early intellectual development I viewed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an Uncle Tom and traitor who was co-opted by the white establishment in which his bourgeoisie upbringing had placed him out of touch with black suffering (boy was I wrong). Dr. King was constantly evolving and those of us who have seriously studied King know that the Dr. King in 1963 was not the same King in 1967 and 1968. King had grown to understand that class was/is an antagonistic contradiction and it was this realization that placed him outside of the civil rights movement philosophy and ultimately made him a dangerous man. Dr. King’s inner circle did not support King as he turned his attention to the Vietnam War and he began to question U.S. imperialism, as well as connect our struggle to the international struggle. Many of King’s top confidants would betray him. King stated: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Once I read King’s book titled, “The Trumpet of Conscience: Why I Opposed the Vietnam War”, I was convinced that Dr. King and Minister Malcolm X were on similar paths and their philosophy in particular in King’s latter years did not differ as much as the scholars would want us to believe.
This led me to reassess and reevaluate my early position on Dr. King and drew the conclusion that I was wrong. I have grown to respect Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. legacy and mission which I and 30-40 million blacks stand as the beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement. There are not many who would unconditionally give their lives to a cause greater than themselves, thus Dr. King was such a man. Both Minister Malcolm X and Dr. King became targets of the United States Government and both fell victims to former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover Cointelpro (U.S. Counter Intelligence) program of the 1950s -1970s that was aimed at destroying black leadership. Their assassinations were staged by U.S. Government agent provocateurs. My daughter by taking on this subject received some valuable lessons in critical thinking and at age thirteen I believe she could grow to have a much better understanding and appreciation of both of these leaders due to this exercise in critical thinking than I had at the same age. The art of critical thinking in the United States is a dying art in the scheme intellectualism.
Perhaps there have not been two most controversial and misunderstood black leaders in American history within the Twentieth Century than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Minister Malcolm X. Both leaders were deeply committed to the cause of social justice for African Americans, but what separated these two men were the strategies and the tactics they chose to achieve ultimate freedom, justice and equality for black people.
Dr. King was born in the south in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929 during the Great Depression in which the south was deeply segregated and racially divided. I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a product of his environment because he lived through an era of Jim Crow (1896-1954), which was solidified with the infamous United States Supreme Court decision Plessy versus Ferguson (1896) in which the high court declared “separate but equal” as being constitutional. Thus, this legal decision allowed the white establishment to discriminate and openly practice racism against black people. Plessy versus Ferguson was overturned by the landmark decision of Brown versus Board of Education Topeka, Kansas 1954 in which the United States Supreme Court reversed the Plessy versus Ferguson decision and declared “separate but equal’ as being unconstitutional. It would be this legal decision and others that led to the dismantling of racial segregation in the United States. It also would give Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights advocates the basis to challenge racist and discriminatory public accommodation laws that prohibited blacks from having equal access to public and private establishments in the United States. King’s greatest and lasting accomplishment was his ability to effect public policy and influence legislation—for example, King’s agitation forced President Lyndon Baines Johnson (he was part of the CIA and FBI plot that led to the murder of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in which the United States Government conveniently pinned the murder on Harvey Lee Oswald) and the United States Congress to passing the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965. The passing of these two pieces of legislation were monumental in the history of African American people; yet at the same time it led to the demise of separate and independent black institutions. What was the ultimate price of integration and desegregation on the political, economic and social systems of black people? Some have argued that integration and desegregation led to the demise of black independence and sovereignty (it destroyed the concept of black nationhood).
Moreover, when blacks could not enter white establishments, it forced them to build black institutions for themselves. Blacks built schools, colleges, supermarkets, movie theaters, beauty schools, barbershops, beauty salons, banks, insurance companies, owned farm land, etc., providing the black community with every service and product they needed to sustain themselves. The black dollar had no choice, but to circulate and it was economically empowering to the black community. Business enterprises and entrepreneurship were huge throughout segregated black America, thriftiness and doing-for-self was a measure of empowerment. The quest for integration became more of a business arrangement on the white establishment part—they woke up and saw that blacks represented and economic market that was more than ripe for exploitation. Their decision to desegregate America was not about the love of humanity and/or siding on the side of social justice, it was done out of sheer economic interest. Black dollars were being invited into the white economy.
Dr. King lived during an era where black lynching was occurring on a daily basis. I think what really helped to shape Dr. King’s worldview was his upbringing in the Christian church where his father the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. served as pastor over legendary Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and he learned certain Christian principles and values relative to forgiving your enemy and turning the other cheek. He accepted and believed in the parable that stated ‘forgive them God they know not what they do’. He understood that most of the biblical prophets had suffered and was rejected by the governments of their day, but King best understood that their struggles were redemptive.
Dr. King also understood the power of love and he became committed to transforming a society that represented the epitome of hate. King’s mission was to conquer hate with the power of love. It was the power of love that caused him to take on some of the most vicious segregationist and racist of all times—Governor George Wallace and Bull Connors in order to protest racial injustice. Blacks and Whites had separate water faucets, black and white bathrooms and blacks could not sit and eat in white restaurants—they often had to get their food at the back door. Dr. King was a witness of these social rules and was deeply disturbed about the affect they were having on black people. He would lead boycotts, sit-in, picket-lines, freedom rides and other demonstrations to protest racial injustices.
Dr. King entered Morehouse College in Atlanta under the guidance of its President Dr. Benjamin Mays who authored the book titled, “Born to Rebel” and Professor Howard Thurman who authored the book titled, “Jesus the Disinherited”. It was Dr. Mays and Thurman who became one of the greatest influences and mentors of Dr. King. King would attend graduate school at a Quaker school named Crozer College in Pennsylvania. The white Quakers were considered a very liberal group and did not judge and discriminate against blacks based on skin color. King would later go on and receive a Ph.D in theology from Boston University.
King studied the history of India and the effect British imperialism and colonialism had on Indian society, but what struck Dr. King the most was the discipline and passion the non-violent protest movement led by Mahatma Gandhi had on altering change and the power dynamics of the British class or caste system, which was rooted in race and economic injustice. There was an old saying that stated that the sun never set on the British Empire; this was an indication of how vast and powerful the British Empire was.
But Gandhi did not seek to alter the political, economic and social system of India through violence and radical militancy; he was committed to passive resistance—no guns and no preaching of retaliation. Gandhi advocated civil disobedience and it was this strategy that proved to be revolutionary and overturned centuries of British domination over the sub-continent of India. Dr. King saw similarities in what was taking place with the oppression of blacks in the United States and what had taking place in India and he was moved by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. King would adopt Gandhi’s civil disobedience tactic as the primary strategy to confront American racism.
Dr. King understood that to violently confront the United States Government would have been suicidal and yet he was not willing to sit back and not challenge the injustices confronting African American people. Mahatma Gandhi presented him with a model and social blueprint that had more power than arm resistance.
Dr. King was called to preach at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The black citizens of Montgomery who were part of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) chose Dr. King as their leader and spokesperson and not the other way around. But what sparked the fight to desegregate Montgomery and the south was a little black woman in 1955 named Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger and refuse to move toward the back of the bus. This event forced King and what became the modern civil rights movement into action.
Minister Malcolm X also was born during the Great Depression in 1925 in the mid-west town of Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm X’s father Earl Little was follower of the Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1915. Garvey arrived to the United States from Jamaica and began teaching a back to Africa philosophy for blacks, he stated, “Africa for the Africans at home and abroad” and he promoted the concept, “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”.
Malcolm X’s father embraced the teachings and philosophy of Marcus Garvey and I believe via DNA or at an early age by attending UNIA meetings Malcolm X was impacted by Garvey’s Nationalism. Minister Malcolm X unlike Dr. King grew up poor and oppressed in which he and his family had to struggle for their existences. Malcolm X at a very young age would witness the Ku Klux Klan (the white Knights) burn his home down because his father was not afraid and often stood up against racial injustice in Omaha and Lansing, Michigan.
It is believed that Ku Klux Klan in 1931 murdered Malcolm X father by tying him to a railroad track where a train decapitated his head from his body. These thoughts of white injustices never left young Malcolm X and most of all he witness at the death of his father the demise of his family. His mother was a proud West Indian from Grenada and she was forced to try to work in order to keep the family together; but she was eventually forced to welfare and based on the pressure to keep the family together, it eventually led her to the insane asylum. These and other events deeply scarred young Malcolm X and I have no doubt that it would be these experiences that would eventually shape the man, mission and his legacy.
Malcolm X family was eventually divided between family and foster care—Malcolm X recalled in his autobiography, the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” that during his eighth grade school year he expressed to his eighth grade white teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer and his teacher told him that a lawyer was not a profession suited for a ‘Negro’ and suggested that Malcolm X pursue becoming a carpenter because his race was better suited to do things with their hands and the law profession was better suited for whites. This incident destroyed young Malcolm X’s self-esteem and confidence in the educational system and from that point forward he saw no benefit in going to school.
Malcolm X after moving to Detroit (Lansing, Michigan) and Boston and working on the railroad and traveling back and forth to New York; he became involved in all sorts of petty crimes—selling drugs, pimping, burglary, running numbers and ultimately a street hustler. Malcolm X in 1946 was sentenced to prison for ten years for burglary in the Michigan State Prison system. Thus, like Dr. King (King came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi), Malcolm X met a man named Elijah Muhammad by way of coming in contact with his teachings and philosophy of the Nation of Islam and the Black Muslim Movement in prison.
The Nation of Islam taught a radical and militant theology, which was based on separation and referred to the white man as the devil who were inheritably evil (the life giving teachings appealed to the spirit of Minister Malcolm X). The teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad were based in discipline and Islamic principles, but unlike Dr. King, Malcolm X as a member in the Nation of Islam was taught to defend himself. Mr. Muhammad did not teach his followers to be the aggressor, but each Muslim had a God given right to fight with those who fought with them. They did not teach turn the other cheek and if attacked felt they had every right to defend themselves. Minister Malcolm X did not believe in violence, but he taught the right to self-defense.
Malcolm X witness the racist beatings, blacks being water hosed down and being bitten by vicious dogs on the evening news and unlike Dr. King was not willing to accept this type of abuse lying down. Malcolm X became a the new voice and image for a generation who refused to accept the racist brutality being bestowed on the black civil rights workers in particular and black folk in general. Malcolm X message seemed confrontational and radical—but the Muslims were taught not to even carry a penknife. The white media demonized Minister Malcolm X and the Black Muslims as being a violent and a subversive group who was looking to overthrow the United States Government.
Minister Malcolm X did say, “Freedom by any means necessary” and in one sense the white establishment was more willing to deal with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call for non-violence as opposed to the radical and militant teachings of Minister Malcolm X. But let me clarify, I think Minister Malcolm X had been historically misunderstood because many believe that he taught hate and reverse racism. However, like I stated above both men King and Malcolm had the same objective which was to bring about freedom, justice and equality for the African American race—they just had different strategies and tactics relative to achieving this goal. Minister Malcolm X’s teachings balanced the entire civil rights movement and without Minister Malcolm X, I do not think that King would have had the type of success he had if it were not for Minster Malcolm X presenting his theoretical polarity.
Minister Malcolm would inspire young revolutionaries like Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Ture) who was a protégé of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who coined the phrase “Black Power” which also gave rise to Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Dr. King was constantly confronted with a growing unsettlement coming from young blacks who were becoming radicalized by the militant teachings of Minister Malcolm X and Dr. King was beginning to have problems keeping young blacks under control. Thus, groups like the Deacons for Defense and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was becoming increasingly radicalized based on the teachings of Minister Malcolm X. Young leaders such as H. Rap Brown (Jamil El-Amin Abdullah) and Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Ture) typified what Malcolm X message meant in the civil rights movement.
In conclusion, some have tried to isolate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the 1963 March on Washington and ‘I have a Dream' Speech and there is no doubt that this speech challenged the ethical and moral fiber of what the United States claimed she represented King stated, “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.”
King in his latter years (1966-1968), perhaps had more in common with Minister Malcolm X in particular with his international position against the Vietnam War. King's message was becoming increasingly radicalized and many believe like Minister Malcolm X that King was beginning to pose a danger to the United States establishment and it was further believed that J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (under a government initiative called Cointelpro) was part of the assassination of King and Minister Malcolm X. Some scholars and historians have questioned that King’s so-called murderer James Earl Ray was only a pasty and not the real assassin (the real assassin was the FBI). Dr. King and Minister Malcolm X chose different leadership tactics and strategies as their methods of social protest, but they had one objective, which was the liberation of black people—King is always symbolized as the preacher of love and Minister Malcolm X is symbolized as the preacher of hate. I think both men approach to solving the political, economic and social problems of black people was steeped in love and not hate. It was more of their leadership temperaments that the media wanted us to believe that one taught love and the other taught hate. My research has led me to believe they had more similarities than differences.
Fahim A. Knight-El Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-EI can be reached at fahimknight@ yahoo.com.
Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight-El