Visionaries for a Better Tomorrow: Comparing the Life and Leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X

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The Civil Rights Movement was a critical event that is important in African American History. From the 1950’s to the mid 1960’s, civil rights activists and leaders rose up across the nation to fight for equal rights and against discrimination. Even local citizens such as Rosa Parks, took a stand against segregation on public transportation. Others also participated in “sit-ins” inside diners for “whites only”. Although people expressed the need for equality, many efforts were shot down. Things began to change in the Jim Crow south when a young pastor named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the largest civil rights boycott against the Montgomery, Alabama bus system. Through his charisma and commitment, Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the strongest and influential civil rights activists. Nevertheless, he was not the only one in the fight for equality.

A revolutionary by the name of Malcolm Little, later changing his name to Malcolm X, rose up and created the belief of Black Nationalism. Malcolm X believed in fighting the enemy (white people) and creating a segregated Black community through forceful measures. Dr. King however desired to bring change by peaceful protest and reached out to all races to join the battle against segregation. We can compare the lives and ideals of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and say they have the same ideas, but their methods and desires for change are much different.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X developed their positions and philosophies as a result of their personal experience in a Jim Crow nation that legalized and institutionalized discrimination. Malcolm Little was born May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His father Earl Little was a Baptist preacher and a follower of Marcus Garvey. His mother, Louise Norton Little was a housewife and took care of Malcolm’s seven brothers and sisters. Due to Earl’s involvement in civil rights activism, Malcolm’s family had to move a few times because they were threatened by the Ku Klux Klan. In 1929, their home in Lansing, Michigan was burnt down. Two years later in 1931, Malcolm’s father was murdered. The Little family knew the KKK was involved in the incident but the police ruled it as suicide. These unfortunate events caused his mother Louise to have a nervous breakdown, which got her sent to a mental institution in 1939. The eight Little children were then split up and sent to various foster homes. Despite this, Malcolm was a bright and focused student, graduating at the top of his class. His dreams were smashed when his favorite teacher expressed that being a lawyer was ‘no realistic goal for a nigger” (cite). This statement was detrimental to Malcolm’s spirit because he lost interest in school and eventually dropped out of high school. He later decided to live with his sister Ella in Boston and worked various jobs. By 1942, Malcolm moved to Harlem, New York and by then he had turned to a life of crime, pimping, gambling and selling drugs. Eventually he was convicted of burglary in 1946 and sent to prison.

While in prison Malcolm continued his education and began a self-transformation. His brother Reginald went to visit Malcolm in jail one day to update him with his recent conversion to Islam. Malcolm began to study the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad was the leader of the Nation of Islam, which was an organization that taught the empowerment of black people and separation from white people. Once Malcolm was released on parole, he became a devout follower of the Nation of Islam. This is when he dropped his last name Little and adopted “X” as his last name, which signified his lost African tribal name.

After his release from prison, Malcolm X became a brilliant and powerful orator. Soon Elijah Muhammad appointed him as a minister and spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. His involvement in the Nation of Islam increased its membership from about 400 to 30,000 followers. Malcolm X was also responsible for the conversion of the...
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