Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are some of the most remembered individuals in world history. Both were prominent African Americans who had made history by fighting for civil rights. Their main anticipation was to improve the status of the African-American people in the United States through various ways that each of them viewed differently. Most whites always considered the two as complete opposites because of their differences. Despite this, both men desired to make exploitation, racism, and discrimination of African Americans end. Moreover, they would do anything in their power to accomplish this. The two men had been greatly influenced by their great fathers, especially by their attitudes towards the white people and their religion. Although both great African Americans had differences and similarities on different aspects and they could be defined as polarities with nothing in common, it was possible to say the two were just but a comparison of two sides of the same coin. This paper intends to provide the actual similarities and differences between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X based on their family backgrounds, their religion, and the ideologies they used in fighting for the civil rights of African Americans in the United States in the 1960s.
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Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska as Malcolm Little in 1925 (Marable 2). His mother Louise Norton was a homemaker and she was always busy taking care of her eight children, while Earl Little, X’s father, was a Baptist minister who occupied himself with preaching. It should be noted that he supported Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist leader. Before Malcolm was four, his family had relocated several times from places to places due to white supremacists’ death threats prompted by Earl’s civil rights activism. After Malcolm’s father had died, his mother Louise was badly shaken by this death and she ended up in a mental institution. Much later, the Little children split in diverse ways, and by 1946, Malcolm was indicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary charges (Marable 9). While in jail, Malcolm decided to recall and further his studies, so he continued his education even after serving time in prison. Soon, the man joined the Organization of the Islam (NOI) where he began fighting for the African American civil rights in a continuance of his father’s actions. In 1958, Malcolm married his wife, whom he met in the Nation of Islam where had gone to give lectures to women (Marable 6). The pair later had six children, and two of them were born just after Malcolm’s death.
Martin Luther King was born and raised in a middle-class family in 1929 (Jeffrey 2). He made his way up by going to college, earned his Ph.D., and he further was active in civil rights like his father. King, being the second child in his family, was raised together with two of his siblings in Atlanta, Georgia. Initially, King was named Michael after his father, but later, he and his father decided to change their names to Martin. Unlike Malcolm X, King married way before in the year 1953, Coretta Scott King who was also an active civil rights fighter (Jeffrey 11). The two were later blessed with four children – two sons, and two daughters. Martin Jr. and his siblings received a better education than the other children of their race since they had been raised in a well off family, unlike Malcolm X who had been was raised in a struggling family. His background experiences influenced him to practice civil rights in his later years. His parents continued to support him in the civil rights fight by the choices he had made.
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There is a high similarity between both King and Malcolm X in regards to their religious experiences. Although both loved their families very much, they had a strong devotion to their religious movement and practices. Due to the various activities that revolved around the church, both were men always away from their homes together with their families. Religion took a better part of their time, and they were fully occupied with their various title responsibilities. According to research by Waldschmidt-Nelson, both men had experienced a transformational vision of God that appeared differently in different places (28). At a point, in which they had to decide for themselves which way they had to take for their future, their visions revealed to them the way forward. For example, with Malcolm X, this happened when he was in prison, while King had experienced his vision in his kitchen on the night when he was in total despair.
Malcolm X affiliated himself with Islam, while Martin Luther King was a Christian. However, both men criticized Christianity in various ways. Thus, Malcolm X always referred Christianity as master of suspicion since he claimed that many Christians simply did not practice what the religion taught. On the other hand, King criticized his religion because even though many people were strongly committed to Christianity, they were not into it fully, and many shortcomings revealed their failures in this religion (Kushner 99). Malcolm X is remembered for using violence in achieving his objective. Moreover, he was a huge supporter of the idea ‘By any means necessary’. Thus, he supported the use of violence if need be and he was distrustful to whites since he wanted the black people to help and support their fellows by any means. On the other hand, Martin Luther King was never violent in his movements, and he supported peaceful negotiations and practices between whites and blacks (Kushner 100).
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Ideologically, both King and Malcolm X had the same goal and the anticipation of freeing African Americans from racism, discrimination, and the exploitation by the white people. This is a major similarity that both prominent men had, which they also took from their fathers as civil right fighters. Nevertheless, they had major differences in attaining what they desired as they had been brought up in different places and background; hence, each of them was influenced differently (Waldschmidt-Nelson 21). According to research, King was quoted talking about Malcolm X after a press conference that they both had attended in Washington, D.C, “He is very articulate, but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views-at least insofar as I understand where he now stands” (Redde 106).
Both King and Malcolm X were civil rights leaders, but the greatest difference that they had was the attitude they had towards the white people. Thus, King was an integrationist and he always wanted both the black people and the white people to work together and become equal eventually (Kushner 109). On the other hand, Malcolm X was a black nationalist who always wanted each party to remain separate and not mix up as one. Although Malcolm X wanted them to have equal rights, like the way King wanted, he was of the thought of getting those rights without the help of the white people as he considered them as not good to mingle with.
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Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are remembered as the civil rights leaders who fought for the equality between the whites and the blacks in the history of America back in the 1960s. Both men have some similarities and differences that have been focused on the study that puts clearly the right images that they both represented. Malcolm X was a Muslim, while King was a Christian. Although both wanted equality for African Americans, Malcolm X was against the mingling and cooperation with whites, while Martin Luther King preferred working with them to achieve equality among everybody in the United States.