Martin Luther King Jr.

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What were the differing beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X regarding role models?

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I think that identification of both leaders' beliefs of role models and their overall thinking reflects thought processes in change.  Both thinkers possessed patterns of thinking that were in evolution or change, cut down prematurely by the bullets of assassins.  Indeed, Dr. King did advocate nonviolence.  Yet, as his movement progressed to addressing Northern racism that was more covert in its operation, King was moving towards a louder demand of change to raise awareness to the covert nature of the enemy.  In the Southern United States, racism was more overt with prejudice being able to be clearly identified through sight and perception.  The North featured a different brand of racism that was hidden, more surreptitious, but just as brutal in forcing people of color, specifically African- Americans, to languish in conditions that sought to weaken the will and resolve for change.  His calls for social justice became louder with this reality coupled to the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, where Black men were being drafted for a war in which they had little, if any, say as to how it should be fought, if fought at all.  While King never left his stance of non-violence, he began to understand that his calls for peace were being manipulated into silence.  The rhetoric and demands in his speeches and actions towards the end of his life would demonstrate a more defiant tone in his thinking.

Malcolm X, as already been identified, was moving towards a more coherent vision of how Islam and its followers have to speak out against injustice.  At the same time, though, he was willing to speak of a Pan- African vision that articulated the condition of people of color worldwide.  In broadening his struggle to involve more people, Malcolm X was speaking to a condition of power, who was in its position, and how it was being distributed.  Similar to King, while the calls were different, the defiance and demands for social justice were just as loud and resonated through the halls of the Status Quo with the same reverberating tremors.

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Essentially, Dr. King promoted equality and collaboration without violence.  When he led protests, he and his followers were peaceful and even their "marches" were simply walks through cities or to significant locations (i.e., Birmingham, Washington D.C.).  Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" illustrates his philosophy of accomplishing his goals of equality and peace without becoming violent or using inflammatory rhetoric.

In contrast, when Malcolm X first became part of the Nation of Islam, he followed their teachings of not associating with white people and of accomplishing their mission (establishing an exclusive black nation) by "any means necessary." If you read Malcolm X's early speeches, you will see the vast difference between his rhetoric of action and separation and Dr. King's message of unity. However, as Malcolm X began to witness the success of Dr. King's approach and as he learned more about the Islamic faith outside of the Nation of Islam's interpretation, he found himself struggling with what he had previously "preached" and what he saw actually succeeding in bettering life for African-Americans.  Eventually, he left the Nation of Islam to begin promoting a more peaceful solution to civil rights issues, but before he succeeded in really turning around his reputation, he was assassinated in front of his wife (by hitmen sent by the Nation of Islam).  I always wonder what his legacy would be if he had had an opportunity to work more with Dr. King.

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