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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm X was a prominent African American Civil Rights activist and a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam in the 1950s and 1960s.

Malcolm dropped out of school at the age of 15 when he was told point-blank by his English teacher that an education was wasted on an African American man. He was advised to take up carpentry instead of law. Malcolm moved to Boston to live with his older half-sister, Ella. There he fell into a life of drugs and crime and ended up being incarcerated. While in prison, he was visited by some of his siblings who had converted to Islam. Malcolm himself converted and eventually changed his last name to 'X' because he believed that the name 'Little' was a relic of slavery. Malcolm X's belief in violence as a means to achieve black freedom was directly opposed to Martin Luther King's belief in peaceful, civil disobedience as a means to achieve equal rights. Malcolm  eventually agreed with Martin Luther King's ideas after he went on the Hajj to Mecca. The vision of all races in harmony at the shrine of Mecca led Malcolm to change his views on violence. Tragically, he was gunned down by three Nation of Islam members before giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan on February 21, 1965.

John Brown was a white American abolitionist who styled himself as a religious martyr fighting for equal rights for African Americans in the 1800s. Although he also believed in using violence as a means to an end, the difference between him and Malcolm X was that Brown never did change his views about violence. He was always stubbornly convinced that violence was the only option for the oppressed slaves. He did not see any other way out of the desperate situation of slavery and frequently carried out attacks on pro-slavery residents. He and his sons participated in the Bleeding Kansas riots, a war between anti-slavery forces and pro-slavery forces in Kansas. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was about popular sovereignty, which meant that Kansas citizens would decide whether Kansas entered the Union as a pro-slavery state or free state. John Brown fought hard on the abolitionist side and for his troubles was hanged for treason after being caught with 21 others who participated in a raid of the United States armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry. This raid was instrumental in bringing events to such a head that the American Civil War (1861-1865) was fought between North and South for the soul of the nation.

Interestingly, Malcolm X died after he advocated peaceful means of obtaining equal rights for his people while John Brown died after participating in violent insurrection as a means of claiming these rights. Although both lived during different time periods in American history, both were equally sure of the rightness of their cause.

mr-mayonnaise eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm X was a Black Rights activist during the Civil rights period in the 1950's and early 60's. He was an influential voice as a Muslim pastor and as an activist he was firm believer in black men and women defending themselves using aggressive force. He believed that non-violence would not defend colored peoples and that they should work to defend themselves, and if that should mean resort to violence then all the better.

John Brown was an abolitionist during the 1850's who also believed that violence was the means to his goal. He led an unsuccessful raid on an armory in 1859 at Harpers Ferry in an attempt to procure firearms to help his supporters fight against pro-slavery activists. He was later tried for attempting to lead an insurrection of slaves and was found guilty of all counts and hung. 

Both of these men were activists that aimed toward creating a more equal nation where men of any color could stand together with neither dominating the other. Both men also believed that pacifism would not get the job done and believed that resorting to violence was the only measure they could use to further their respective, yet not so different, causes. They are both hailed as influential men in the field of civil rights even though their methods may have been too aggressive.

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