When looking back on the Sixties, one of the most dominating themes of that period was the Civil Rights Movement. The quest for civil rights had been started long ago, when the black man was freed from the bonds of slavery. Over a hundred years later, the problem of blacks being treated as second-class citizens still persisted. What could be done to correct the present situation? Some, both blacks and whites, believed that non-violence was the only means to achieve civil rights, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached. Others like Huey Newton of the Black Panthers believed that violence was the only way. (W. H. Chafe: The Unfinished Journey, Oxford University Press. 1999, p.316.) And lastly, some agreed with both ways to achieve this end; whatever means guaranteeing civil rights must be taken. This last approach is the main focus of this essay. Both Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X were dominant figures of their times. Whites, as well as some of the "moderate" black leaders, criticized both of them as "extremists" and "racists." Certainly, their philosophy and approach to dealing with racism was quite different to the prevailing theme of working together with whites, within the system. Both Carmichael and Malcolm X shared similarities and minor differences in each of their philosophies. Most of all, the elements of "black pride" and "black militancy" manifested themselves in each of their approaches. However, the stereotypes against these more "extremist" movements have long trickled down among the generations in a negative light. “In attempting to unravel the stereotypes of "black pride" and "black militancy," an open-minded reading of both Carmichael's Black Power and The Autobiography of Malcolm X unclouded the truth and meaning behind the more "radical" approaches during the Civil Rights Movement.” Says Alex Haley, assistant author of the Autobiography of Malcom X.
Important in understanding the philosophies of both Carmichael and Malcolm X is each man's background. Carmichael was a well-educated individual who attended both the esteemed Bronx High School of Science and Howard University. Active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and later chairman of in 1966, he championed black people's involvement in politics. By definition, SNCC's approach to dealing with the current racial problems in America leaned toward nonviolence. Carmichael acknowledged both nonviolent and violent means as possible paths in the quest for civil rights. Specifically, Carmichael advocated for the equal share of power by both blacks and whites "by whatever means necessary” he says.
In contrast to Carmichael, Malcolm X lived a life on the streets, highly involved with crime and in and out of jail. Malcolm X's father, the Reverend Earl Little, was a proponent and participator in Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. Controversially, this organization advocated for the complete separation of the black race from the whites, and urged blacks to move back to Africa. This separatist thinking was a dynamic aspect of Malcolm's ideology and of the larger organization he was a part of, the Nation of Islam. Malcolm had grown to detest the white man, considering him as the "devil," as taught by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the "Black Muslims." Essentially, Malcolm believed that "the only way the black people caught up in this society can be saved is not to integrate into this corrupt society, but to separate from it, to a land of our own, where we can reform ourselves, lift up our moral standards, and try to be godly." (Sparknotes: Alex Haley, “The Autobiography of Malcom X” http://rickscape.com/tmp/snotez/malcolmx.pdf) Unlike Malcolm, Carmichael did not adhere to this approach. However, nearing the end of his life, Malcolm began to reverse his thinking on integration and not considering all whites to be "devils;" unfortuna,tely he was assassinated before he could begin...
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