While Black militancy is understandable given Malcolm X's history and his perception of the problem afflicting Blacks at the time, the better means of achieving Black rights was through nonviolence: specifically, boycotts, demonstrations, and marches. Dr. King welcomed participation from all people, including whites and other minorities, unlike Malcolm X. In historical reflections on the civil rights movement, it took both Blacks and whites (working within the white power structure) to achieve the desired outcome. For instance, white New Yorkers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were killed by Klansmen in Mississippi decided to investigate the burning of a Black church. Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a white mother from Michigan, was killed by Alabaman Klansmen in 1965 when she tried to help Blacks in the South (Maxwell). Thousands of whites worked for Black freedom: an ideological shift supported and encouraged by the kinds of tactics Dr. King advocated. The same cannot be said of Malcolm X, who famously remarked that white people were "a race of devils" (Lomax 57). What white person would be encouraged to work for civil rights given such an antagonistic remark?
Although Black militancy was important in the context of the entire civil rights movement, the retaliatory tenor of Malcolm X's message was sure to cause opposition from the establishment. The message was also profoundly collectivistic and an antithesis of the American value of individualism (McTaggart). His call for Blacks to come together created a movement for Black socialism in a kind of voluntary segregation. In a way, this defeated the purpose of the civil rights movement, and, absent of the efforts of other, less oppositional leaders, would have probably worsened the problem facing Blacks in America. Forcing the Black community to remain segregated from whites as a whole could have continued the sentiment among racist Americans that Black people are not equal to white people. Dr. King, in contrast, unswervingly advocated for a social conscience in America: drawing attention to the inequalities he witnessed in a number of areas of society. Rather than assuming these inequalities existed and not drawing public attention to them, Dr. King made it his role in the movement to challenge social assumptions about the place of Black people in America. Despite Malcolm X's enormous influence on the movement, his message was not one of equality, but of retaliation for inequality.
Although both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were transformational leaders who were instrumental in raising public awareness of a problem of inequality, only King's methods could have been successful in bringing about the desired outcome of the movement. Applied to the movement as a whole, Malcolm X's philosophy of violent retaliation would have exacerbated the problem Blacks faced at the time, forcing the white establishment to increase oppression and segregation of the Black community. Because King's techniques were successful in challenging the establishment, Blacks achieved a number of civil rights not previously available to them. The kind of transformation leader King represents is a rare symbol, and the inspiration he provided to Black people for change still inspires people to strive for equality and freedom.
Lomax, Louis E. When the Word is Given...: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim World. New York: Greenwood Press, 1979.
Maxwell, Bill. White friends of civil rights. 20 January 2008. 27 April 2010 .
McTaggart, Ursula. The Oratory of Malcolm X. February 2006. April 2010 .