VI. Comparison of Martin and MalcolmThey said to one another,
Behold, here cometh the dreamer ...
Let us slay him.
And we shall see what will become of his dreams.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were both respected ministers and established leaders of the African-American people. Although most whites often say that they were "like oil and water", these two men, how different they may have seemed to be, had the same goal: They wanted to end exploitation, discrimination and racism. Both had been deeply influenced by their fathers, especially by their religion and attitude towards whites. Malcolm emerged from the black underclass in the northern ghettos to a spokesman for the poor blacks, following the teachings of Islam and holding on to black nationalism. He demanded justice and that African-Americans should be respected as human-beings. Therefore blacks first had to love themselves to build up their self-consciousness.
Martin, who had been raised in a middle-class family of the South, had gone to college and made his PhD., and became active in the civil rights movement like his father. As a Baptist minister, his major emphasis was on love and non-violence. To gain full rights, he advocated non-violent direct action and was an upholder of passive resistance, but not of self-defense like Malcolm. He married Coretta Scott King in 1953. She was also active in the civil rights struggle and raised their two sons and two daughters. Malcolm met his wife Betty, whom he married in 1958, in the Nation of Islam. She had gone to college and was giving lectures to the women of the organization. For many African-American males a woman whose skin-colour is rather light is a kind of status-symbol. Malcolm, who had always suffered because of his red hair, was one of the few who married a woman who had a darker complexion than he had, because he regarded blackness as and adorable and beautiful feature. The couple had six daughters, of whom two were born after Malcolm's death.
Although Malcolm and Martin loved their families, they had totally devoted themselves to their movement and their church, so that they were often away from home. Religion took the central role in their lives and thinking, as it had done in their fathers'. Both were ministers, who held on to the Bible, and both had experienced a transforming personal vision of God, when they found themselves at a point, where they had to decide which way they should take for the future. For Malcolm, this happened in his prison cell, and Martin had his vision in a night of total despair in his kitchen shortly after the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. Malcolm never stopped criticizing Christianity and calling it a "master of suspicion" for not practicing what it thought and preached. Although Martin was a Baptist minister, he wasn't afraid of heavy critique and named racism the chief moral dilemma of American Christianity. But while Malcolm always spoke of the "bitter and unanswerable present"61 and warned white America of outbursts of violence in a tone that shocked most whites, Martin had to be moderate, because the civil rights movement was supported and financed by many whites.
didn't only criticize this dependency, but also the wish to integrate
into the mainstream of American society:
Both urged African-Americans to become active by joining organizations and registering to vote. They both knew, that the capitalist system of the US only helped the rich to become richer by exploiting the poor. Therefore, they were interested in transforming the American political economy to abolish poverty and discrimination. Malcolm realized before Martin, that the first step to reach these goals was for the African-American people to build up their self-consciousness and pride, so that they finally could unite and work together with the non-white people of the whole world. Both travelled through Europe and Africa, establishing important links between the African people and the African-Americans, because they knew that "all men are interdependent"65 and that "our hope for creative living in this world house that we have inherited lies in our ability to re-establish the moral ends of our lives in personal character and social justice."66 While Martin was more liked in Europe because of his moderation, Malcolm was famous in Africa, where many nations reached their independence through bloody revolutions and saw in Malcolm an American revolutionary. And this was exactly the reason why Europe was scared of Malcolm. So when he came to France in 1965, he wasn't allowed entry. The attitude of the European countries toward Martin also changed when he started criticizing poverty and the activities of the US in Vietnam.
At home in the States, Malcolm, who spoke for the masses in the ghettos and held many speeches before students, inserted militancy into the civil rights movement, while Martin, with the mass of black churches behind him, injected militancy into the conservative black churches. Towards the end of their life, both found themselves deserted by many followers - Malcolm, because he became too moderate and not active enough, Martin, because he became too radical. Both became opposed to the capitalist system of the US and therefore were put under close surveillance by the FBI.
he always held on to his belief, that appealing to white America's
sense of fair play by a public demonstration of non-violence could
bring about changes, and therefore was opposed to the idea of
self-defense, Martin had to realize that African-Americans still
weren't living the American dream, but an American nightmare. Malcolm
had experienced this nightmare and therefore had always told the
sharp truth, when he told America about it. His slogan was "By
any means necessary" and he even was willing to die for his
people and his beliefs. But his experiences in Mecca and Africa gave
him hope, and like Martin he had the dream, that one day we would all
live together in peace, having gained "freedom, justice and
equality." Today African-Americans regard both as martyrs who
died for their people in the fight for equality, a fight that hasn't
stopped until this day. Martin has often been called "the
Dreamer" and Ossie Davis named Malcolm "our shining black
prince". Although they never joined together to fight for the
rights of the non-white and the poor people, they achieved a lot, and
especially became role-models for the African-American youth.
Martin and Malcolm probably could have accomplished even greater
changes and prevented many crisis, if they hadn't been assassinated
at the age of 39. Today their daughters, Yolanda King and Attallah
Shabazz, are working together, and their widows, Coretta Scott King
and Dr. Betty Shabazz, continue to spread the ideas of these two men,
who tried to transform America's thinking.
61.) Baldwin, James: No name in the street, p.96
62.) in "Martin & Malcolm & America"; taken from NYAN, 1July 1961,p.37
63.) in Coretta Scott King,"My life with MLK,jr.",p.256
64.) see "Martin & Malcolm & America",p.267
65.) taken from "Where do we go from here",p.181
66.) ibid.,p. 173