Civil rights of the African Americans took a turn for the better, particularly within the 1960s, with the rise of courageous and able leaders within the black community. Rights for the community that had faced great racial discrimination in the preceding decades were fronted by leaders with diverse views and backgrounds. Martin Luther king jnr. and Malcolm X are two of the most prominent civil rights movement leaders that emerged in that era, heralding a new dawn for the African American people's rights (Howard-Pitney 3). The book, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s: a brief history with documents by author David Howard-Pitney, presents the two sides of the movement as represented by the two leaders. Through the well organized topical groups divided into six sections, comparisons are drawn between the two leaders, their perspectives and approach on the African American struggle against racial discrimination.
Racial segregation in America had served to keep the black people under the yoke of their white counterparts, subsequently leading to the unified calls by the community for their rights as citizens of the nation. Both leaders emerged from different backgrounds which impacted on their attitudes and approach in the struggle for racial equality and civil rights of African Americans. Malcolm X, widely seen as great orator and leader of the civil movement, arose from a backdrop of radical Islamic teaching and philosophy adopted by the Nation of Islam (Howard-Pitney 12). In his formative years in prison, Malcolm X learnt to see the position of his race from the religious standpoint of fundamental Islam. Having had a past experience about ideas and beliefs of black pride, he is seen to have incorporated these into the radical doctrines of the religion in advancing the black power movement among the African Americans. Other preceding figures projecting Black Nationalism and supremacy philosophies, especially Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad, played a huge role in shaping the young man as he taught himself in prison.
Martin Luther king, jr. was greatly influenced by religion in forming his standpoint in advocating for the civil rights of all people in America, especially the marginalized black community. Being a Baptist minister and having grown in Christian family, king did not develop racial inclination as his religion placed all races under one God. Christianity teaches that all people on earth are one, in spite of the existence of many cultural and social differences; in addition to race and color (Howard-Pitney 25). Racial prejudice towards the white, despite the injustices that had been committed by them on the black people, did not form King's general outlook on the whole civil rights lobbying as it did on Malcolm X (Howard-Pitney 15). In his college days, king had embedded peaceful approaches in countering the racial problems prevailing in the American society in the 1950s.
As the leader of MIA, Montgomery Improvement Association, he and other members' peaceful boycott efforts led to the eventual abolishing of racial segregation policies in the city's public transportation systems. King further developed his non-violent approach from his interaction with Bayard Rustin and Mahatma Gandhi. The pilgrimage to India, in addition to Christian doctrinal teaching, clearly influenced his adoption of the same philosophy of in calling for racial equality and integration in a racially segregated America. Having diverging standpoints on the issue of racial equality and African Americans, bordering on the extreme ends, separated the two leaders for much of the early years of the movement.
A great rift existed between the approaches and philosophies adopted by the King and Malcolm X as outlined in the second chapter of the book. King espoused principles of non-violence in leading that wing of resistance. King treated all races as one people without racial divides, noting that whatever affected on e group ultimately affected the other groups. In his public speeches, civil rights not only focused on the black community and other minority groups, but also on all marginalized groups in the country facing other forms of discrimination. As a leader of the Black Nationalism group, Nation of Islam, Malcolm X pointed out black pride as of essence in the efforts of the community to overcome racial discrimination. In admonishing African Americans to identify themselves by their race, he gradually sowed the seeds for racial separation (Howard-Pitney 56). King on the other hand promoted the belief that integration of all the races in America would lead towards eliminating the deep seated racial prejudices in the American society.
Through his personal view, people of all colors were first to recognize the fact that all humans are the same, in spite of social differences (Howard-Pitney 39). Martin Luther King, jr. saw embracing racial integration as vital for achieving equality of all people American in America. A belief which did not seat well with the views expressed by black nationalists led by Malcolm X. In many occasions, Malcolm X publicly expressed his views to the extent of suggesting black states within America, solely governed and inhabited exclusively by black people. Racial separation, rather than integration, was strongly advocated for by Malcolm as the means of achieving racial equality and eventual freedom of the black race in America. This viewpoint is clearly outlined by his declarations that the African Americans needed this as a form of independent from the white (Howard-Pitney 57). His developed belief was that white people were focused on continually depriving the black people, in order to keep them down, subsequently barring them from claiming their rightful place within the society. Looking at the situation from the atrocities committed against the community during slavery, Malcolm X further instigated for some for of reparation.
Revolution of the black people was seen through the eyes of Malcolm x as the only tool of achieving freedom, even to the use of violence or even war. Malcolm X fomented and advocated for revolution, by "all necessary means", in emancipating the black from racial prejudice imposed on them by "the white man" (Howard-Pitney 22). Means of struggle for the civil rights movement, in Malcolm X 's opinion included all means deemed necessary, including the use of violence. Opposed to these stand, the other wing of the civil right movement, focused on non-violent means, which would not lead to any physical altercations with the government or other groups. In demanding for civil rights, non-violent resistance strategies were employed by the faction, led by King including civil disobedience. With the great belief racial integration was crucial for achieving the goal of overcoming racial prejudice and discrimination. In his view, the preexisting hatred and animosity between the races was one of the great barriers against racial equality and any form of violence would only serve the purpose of alienating the races.
King's I have a dream speech, regarded the best of the 20th century and arguably of all times, outlined his vision of an American society devoid of the racial discrimination; where the white and black people would co exist peacefully without judging each other. In the speech, king envisioned the nation in peaceful existence of all races on equal terms, as detailed within the declaration of independence and the country's constitution. All Americans in spite of their color have their destinies, freedom, aspiration ad vision tied together, among other important aspects of life, making racial integration a necessity as pointed out by martin Luther King, jr. Malcolm X on the other hand did not hold any belief in the coexistence of the two races. His philosophy on separation of the races was based on notions of hatred between the races. Black people were mistreated during the days of slavery and these divisions continuing on to the 20th century with laws promoting racial segregation.
In his own view, he terms the white people as devil incarnate further fomenting the prevailing negative attitudes among the white and black communities. Any misfortune befalling white Americans was seen by Malcolm X as a form of judgment from God, on a people that had committed atrocious sin against his own people. How could a people who had been ill treated by their cruel slave masters embrace them as brothers? Malcolm X did not foresee peaceful strategies as effective in the civil rights movement, with the stance that the white dominated American society stood a chance of losing a lot (Howard-Pitney 134). Believing that black people had all along been brainwashed by philosophies and beliefs, advancing the dominance enjoyed by the whites, Malcolm X strongly advocated for complete racial separation as a way of achieving emancipation for the African Americans. These views have been widely regarded as having their basis on his embracing of radical Islamic doctrines.
Both leaders finally tended to converge before Malcolm X's sudden death. His decision to disassociate himself from the radical views of the Nation of Islam after falling out with its leadership brought a softer tone to his initially strong and separation position. Pointing out that he was not a racist and gradually dropping calls for violent revolutions among the African American civil right movements brought a closer relationship within the non violent wing. King and Malcolm X's diverging views slowly came into some form of convergence with their similarity on social problems befalling Americans without any racial underpinnings. King's non violent approaches are finally echoed by Malcolm X's, in his realization that America could have "a blood less revolution". Still some differences existed, but the distance between the two wings and their leaders, had grown shorter (Howard-Pitney 201).