The Civil Rights Movement symbolized the challenge and opposition to the racial injustices and segregation that had been engrained in American society for hundreds of years. Events that took place in the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, sit-ins, speeches and numerous protests define this momentous time in United States history. Speeches during this period served as a means to inspire and assemble a specific group of people, for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X it was the black community that needed to rise up in hopes of achieving equal rights and voting rights for the blacks.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were two of the most prominent leaders and orators at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. Although both leaders possessed the same objectives, their outlooks and perspectives differed immensely. The main primary difference focused on their willingness to employ violence to achieve their end goals. While Dr. King suggests a civil disobedient approach in “Give Us The Ballot” and “Pilgrimage to Non Violence,” Malcolm X believed otherwise, expressing his belief that the black community needed to rise up and organize.
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Malcolm X articulated his view on the necessary use of violence and retaliation in “The Ballot or the Bullet”. Despite the striking differences of methods between the two civil rights leaders, there were a few similarities between these two leaders. They both believed that blacks suffered from great injustice and prejudice. King felt that all people were affected by the existing injustices that the few were suffering. Malcolm X preferred a more confrontational method of action, but also recognized the fact that blacks had been oppressed for too long.
The goals of both men originated from their common racial heritage and history. To raise the issue of social injustice for the world to see and from there force changes was the intent of both men. Malcolm X and Dr. King also shared the opinion that the current political system in the United States needed reform. Dr. King and Malcolm X strived to achieve equality for blacks under the law, more specifically, voting rights, desegregation, and more representation in government and politics. However, both men differed immensely in their tactics and strategies.
For Dr. King, the negotiations could be brought about by the persistence of a nonviolent plan where, the oppressed people’s determination would overcome the will of the oppressor in the hearts and minds of the nation. He firmly believed in the principles of Mahatma Gandhi’s method of nonviolence resistance, which had been successful in driving the British out of India. For example, according to King, one of the resisters, or black mans goals is not to humiliate the opponent, (the white man) but to win his friendship and understanding.
Dr. King proposed a passive resistance, based on “the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice” (“Pilgrimage to Non Violence” King, 112). He claimed the center of nonviolence is based on the principle of love, or understanding. Dr. King emphasized that the white man should not be held responsible for the minorities and blacks being oppressed. Here is where the two leaders oppose each other. Malcolm X felt social injustice and racism had endured too long, and it was time for a new approach.
He said, “I don’t mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. ” (Malcolm X, 34) Malcolm X did not necessarily want to seek out violence, but under the existing circumstances, he felt that blacks were justified to retaliate violently. Not only did Malcolm X blame the white man for oppressing blacks, but also he blamed the American government and both political parties. Malcolm X felt he had the right to take, not ask, for the rights that blacks naturally deserved. The underlying principals and causes underpinning Dr.
King and Malcolm X’s philosophies regarding civil rights are congruent. Dr. King described the denial of blacks right to vote as “a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions. ” (“Give Us the Ballot” King, 197) He almost pleaded with the United States President and Members of Congress to reevaluate their decision of denying blacks the right to vote. He made various promises, one being to “transform the salient misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens” (“Give us the Ballot” King, 198). Dr.
King pointed out where the conflicts and hypocrisy lay within the administration, but was more than willing to plead and negotiate with the United States Government than Malcolm X. In contrast, Malcolm X declared blacks had been victims of “Americanism,” wherein immigrants and colonists had all been deemed “American” but not blacks. Blacks were always considered African. (Malcolm X, 36) Malcolm X emphasized the genocidal and racist history of America. He demanded for a type of “black nationalism” where the black man is given the power to control the politics and the economy in his own community (36).
Malcolm X argued the black man is the reason the white man is so rich and it is through the long history of economic and political oppression and social degradation that has forced these burdens on the black man. Dr. King thought the black community had evolved and succeeded, particularly in the development of the federal court case Brown vs. Board of Education, where schools across the nation were desegregated. Malcolm X, however, said “There’s more racial animosity, more racial hatred, more racial violence today than in 1964, than there was in 1954” (Malcolm X, 31).
Malcolm X was impatient with American society and its oppression of blacks and was unwilling to wait any longer. He didn’t’ feel that he, or the blacks, owed white people anything and didn’t want to be in any type of relationship with them. The need for societal change was exhorted by both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. as urgent and necessary; although their views on the history and future of the oppressed black community differed substantially. Malcolm X, however similar the reasons behind his anxiety and irritation with the racial situation were to King’s, proposed a distinct means of protest and persuasion.
Malcolm X was highly critical of the present approach to mending the racial injustices. He stated black people are “fed up with the dillydallying and pussy-footing, compromising approach we’ve been using toward getting our freedom” (Malcolm X, 38). He felt that the present administration in Washington and the minority representatives and black constituencies were settling for what they had, and that was not good enough. Malcolm X did not expressly condone the unnecessary use of violence as a tool of resolution, but he did not speak out against its use.
As Malcolm X so eloquently said, it was time for the “Ballot or the Bullet”. Malcolm X justified the use of violence by stating: If you don’t take an uncompromising stand-I don’t mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do . . . Any time you know you’re within the law, within your legal rights, within you moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for hat you believe in. But don’t die alone. Let you dying be reciprocal. This is what is meant by equality. (Malcolm X, 34) Dr. King was willing with work within and with the system even though he was angry and pessimistic. Dr. King called for a change in leadership from the federal government, political parties, the white northern liberals, and the moderates of the white South and most importantly, the “Negro community. ” He blamed the United States Executive and Legislative branches for not protecting every citizen’s rights. Dr.
King claimed the southern Dixiecrats had defeated the Democratic Party while the Republicans had confirmed their obvious hypocrisy by not joining him. He called for “a liberalism which is truly liberal” and the voice of the white southern moderates. He demanded leadership from the black community that was a “calm and yet positive” leadership. (“Give Us the Ballot” King, 198-199) Malcolm X and Dr. King both agreed that there were holes in the American democratic system, but are at odds with the distinct areas of error, and who exactly was responsible for them. Martin Luther King Jr. nd Malcolm X desired the same ends: equality of opportunity for the black man, a level playing field for both black and white races. To achieve racial equality, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X engaged in contrasting protest and dissent strategies. Malcolm X’s approach to the dilemma should not be discounted as precarious because it embodies the spirit, passion, and determination of the black man and his desire to overcome the oppression by white society. It is possible that Malcolm X’s mere threat of violence and his justification for it may have played a part in igniting the flames of reform.
I admire Malcolm X’s passion, however it simply cannot be denied that the civil disobedience approach led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and various others had a more profound and lasting impact on the hearts and minds of all American citizens, no matter what race. By appealing to the compassion of the humanity through the means of civil disobedience, Dr. King was able to expose racial injustices and appeal to the human conscience and national opinion so that those who had the power to initiate change would support him and those who were fighting to overcome oppression.
Works Cited Martin Luther King, Jr. , “Give Us the Ballot???We Will Transform the South” (1957), from A Testament of Hope, Ed. James Melvin Washington, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1986 Martin Luther King, Jr. , “Pilgrimage to Non Violence” (1958), from The Sixties Papers: Documents of a Rebellious Decade, Judith Clavir Albert and Stewart Edward Albert, eds. , New York: Prager, 1984 Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet” (speech from April 3rd, 1964), from Malcolm XSpeaks: Selected Speeches and Statements, Ed. George Breitman, New York: Pathfinder, 1990