Of the many misfortunes caused by each leader's death is the fact that they were each moving closer to one another ideologically, but never had a chance to meet and discuss those shifting ideologies. Malcolm X was killed in Harlem at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965; Dr. Martin...
Of the many misfortunes caused by each leader's death is the fact that they were each moving closer to one another ideologically, but never had a chance to meet and discuss those shifting ideologies. Malcolm X was killed in Harlem at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968.
Early in the Civil Rights Movement, King advocated civil disobedience, which meant, even if physically attacked, black protesters should not retaliate. Malcolm X, and the Nation of Islam, to which he belonged at the time, was sharply opposed to this. Malcolm X advocated for self-defense. In 1964, he advocated for justice "by any means necessary." He never supported non-violent protest.
The non-violent approach, coupled with King's favor for integration, caused Malcolm and other more militant leaders to identify King as an "Uncle Tom"—that is, an obsequious figure more interested in putting whites at ease than in justice and dignity for his community. This, of course, was untrue.
Malcolm X had been indoctrinated by the Nation of Islam with the notion of white people as "devils" while still in prison. Therefore, any thought of working with them or seeing them as allies was impossible to Malcolm. In 1963, after his brief ostracism from the Nation of Islam, due to his controversial comments about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm made discoveries about Elijah Muhammad that disillusioned him.
In response, he left the United States and embarked on a world tour, which included a pilgrimage to Mecca. There, he saw men of all races united under Islam. This experience revealed the fallacy of the Nation of Islam's rhetoric, and brought him closer to understanding King's ideas about "brotherhood."
When he returned to the States, his set up the Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU). Malcolm still advocated for self-reliance, but he welcomed white allies. In its nascence, the organization accepted help from whites but would not allow white membership. He insisted that, first, black people had to determine for themselves what justice and equality should look like.
Because he was rooted in Harlem, Malcolm X was more associated with poor and working-class black people. The Nation of Islam also had a tendency to find its members among these classes, in addition to seeking out social rejects, such as ex-convicts—which Malcolm was.
In contrast, Dr. King is more often associated with the black middle-class Civil Rights movement, rooted in Southern Christian churches. Some of this has to do with King's background, which was middle-class and highly educated, contrary to Malcolm's. However, toward the end of his life, King focused more on the needs of the working-class and became involved in labor organizing. He traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, where he was killed, to help organize sanitation workers.
All of this suggests that, had Malcolm X lived and had the two had another opportunity to meet, they might have merged in class consciousness. This would include the understanding that white people should be included in the struggle for civil rights, but should not be permitted to co-opt the movement.