Social Justice and Civil Equality: Martin Luther King and Malcolm X

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Social Justice and Civil Equality

In the pursuit of social justice and civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, sought to amend a flawed system. To accomplish this task, these men entered the armory and chose to wield nonviolence as their weapon. Their goal: to combat violence with nonviolence, to fight hate with love, and to spread equality through peace. In the end they succeeded. Violence breeds violence, hate breeds hate, it is an ineffective approach and an archaic mean to resolving societies issues. Malcolm X and Carmichael were both extreme individuals but that does not make them violent. They attacked social justice and civil rights passionately and assertively, not violently. The methods used and arguments made by Martin Luther King Jr. in Letter from Birmingham Jail, Malcolm X in The Ballot or the Bullet, and Stokely Carmichael in Black Power, demonstrate the potency of nonviolence. These men address three separate issues in each of their works. King discusses social issues in regards to the nation as a whole in his letter. Malcolm X speaks to the political equality of black individuals in African American communities. Carmichael discusses white supremacy and its oppression of African American citizens in their own community. Fighting with peace, protesting with nonviolence, is the most effective measure when pursuing social justice and civil rights. I will show how Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael used passive methods and nonviolent means in conquering the issues they had at hand.

Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate of nonviolence, a proponent of peace, and pursued social justices in the civil rights era directly and nonviolently. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail and through his countless marches and speeches, he was able to show how nonviolence can be used to combat the social injustices taking place throughout the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail on April 16th, 1963. This correspondence demonstrates Kings adherence to nonviolence and his belief in its ability to overcome segregation. King argues that passively “waiting” and obedient “patience” can no longer be accepted in the headlong pursuit of social justice and civil rights. King calls for direct nonviolent action by the African American community. He utilizes his whereabouts, his writing style, and his reason for writing the letter to provide his followers with examples of nonviolence.

King was a brilliant individual and I believe the title of this letter was chosen for a reason. Titling this Letter from Birmingham Jail, King takes away any proactive connotations or aggressive messages that could be derived from a title. Nonviolent direct action is Kings aim. There is no call for harsh action after being arrested, no call for violent protests in his name. He is now just another man sitting in jail writing a letter to the masses. King titles his letter from a place, not to a person or to community of people. His audience is undoubtedly the African American community and by informing them he is writing “from jail” he affirms his need and want for nonviolent direct action by demonstrating he will not “stand idly by” and “wait patiently” for things to change. He is in jail for his direct nonviolent action and he is trying to engrain this philosophy into the minds of the black community with this title. The setting of an act or event can be almost as important as the incident itself. King understood this concept and used it to his advantage. Letter from Birmingham Jail aided King and his nonviolent approach to social injustices and civil rights.

King utilizes his style of writing as an effective method of advocating nonviolence. He writes and speaks in a powerfully passive voice that is useful in attacking segregation directly and nonviolently. King states, “I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.” The phrase “our...
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