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Analyzing Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Vision for Equality and Freedom from Racism in The 1950s and 70s

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Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr both had a vision of equality and freedom from oppression for the African-Americans during the 1950s to 1970s. Although sharing a vision, they differed in background, religion, and opinions whether racial inequality should be approached with active and immediate change making (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001) or with passive change making and peace.

King and Malcolm X grew up in disparate backgrounds. Malcolm X (originally Malcolm little) was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19 1925. He grew up with 7 siblings and a father (Earl Little) who was a Baptist minister and took part in civil rights activism (Haley & Malcolm X). His father was under constant death threats from his activist movements and therefore his family was regularly moving until his house in Michigan was burnt down and his father killed by white supremacists (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). As a result, his mother was sent to a mental institution when suffering an emotional breakdown (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). Malcolm and his siblings were split among various orphanages and foster homes (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). At his age of 20, 1946, Malcolm was sentenced 10 years in prison for burglary but was released after 7 years on parole for good behavior (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). While he was in prison, he developed a curiosity for teachings of Nations of Islam (NOI) leader Elijah Muhammad. By 1952 Malcolm was a devoted Muslim with a new surname ‘X’ as he considered ‘Little’ as a slave name (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). Later, owing to his outstanding leadership characters, he was appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the NOI (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). He manipulated the media well to spread the teaching of the NOI, increased the NOI’s membership from 500 to 30000 in 11 years and found the Muslim Mosque, Inc. (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). Martin Luther King Jr was born on January 15 1929, Atlanta Georgia. He grew up in a stable family with his 2 siblings and his father also a Baptist minister who protested against segregation. Although suffering depression during his teenage years and made a suicide attempt, he received a substantial high school education and graduated college with a B.A degree in sociology, later received a Bachelor of Divinity and a Ph.D. degree on 1955. He decided to serve as a Baptist minister as he had an “inner urge to serve the humanity” (Wikipedia, Martin Luther King Jr)

King and Malcolm X differed in the context of their teaching. King encouraged his followers to follow a non-violent approach towards equality and show love and understanding for their enemies which was to result in a racially harmonized and a peaceful society (i.e. the ‘Brotherhood’). On the contrary, Malcolm X had ideas of non-violent approach being a deception to keep black people under oppression and being defenseless. He believed in a society of black supremacy and separatism.

King and Malcolm X had contrasted in the methods of approach towards equality. King organized several boycotts and demonstrations with the emphasis on peace and non-violence as he believed that violence is self-defeating and also said, quoting the Bible: 2) “those who live by the sword will perish by the sword” in the Montgomery Bus Boycott interview. For example: ‘Montgomery Bus Boycott’, and ‘Freedom Rides’ were protests where, under King’s lead, violence and retaliation were in absence. In contrast, Malcolm X urged his followers to defend themselves against aggression “by any means necessary”. Malcolm X also said (during an interview at the University of California, Berkeley) 3) “send the guerrillas to Mississippi” so that the black victims of violence can have armed protection.

King and Malcolm X had differed in their attitudes towards the white people who oppressed them as they differed in religion and thought. King (based on his Christian faith and Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent resistance) had an attitude of forgiveness, brotherhood and 1) “turning the other cheek” (bio, Martin Luther King Jr. Biography, 2016) (i.e. not resisting or revenging your enemies but letting them do what they do). Hence King had an attitude of love, forgiveness and acceptance towards those who oppressed the black people. On the other hand, Malcolm X (as he was taught by an Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad) saw the white men as the evils that, his God, ‘Allah’ would later destroy and punish. Hence, he saw the black people as superior and people who need to be separated from the white people. Therefore he had a bitter attitude towards any white people as he believed in black supremacy and as he said: “he’s (white man) only brotherly when he wants to exploit you, exploit, oppress.” (YouTube, MALCOLM X INTERVIEW AT UC BERKELEY)

King and Malcolm X took part in movement groups with opposing ideas. King was a member of ‘The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’ (SNCC), ‘Southern Christian Leadership Conference’ (SCLC) and ‘National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People’ (NAACP). These organizations were non-violent, peaceful groups that mostly organized peaceful marches. In contrast, Malcolm X was a part of the ‘Nation of Islam’ (NOI) until he left in 1964 with intentions to create Black Nationalist party. Although he didn’t take part, he supported the idea of ‘Black Power’ movement for its idea of retaliation for self-defense.

King and Malcolm X had a similarity in their goals of ending oppression for the black people. Malcolm X, as it says in his autobiography: “My ultimate goal is to bring about freedom, equality, and justice for black people in USA, complete respect and recognition as human beings.”(Haley & Malcolm X 2001) Therefore Malcolm X wants justice and equality. King, as he said in his I have a dream speech: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Hence he calls for equality. He also said: “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” (American Rhetoric, Martin Luther King Jr. I have a Dream) Here he calls for freedom and justice. Therefore, both Malcolm X and King had a vision of justice, freedom and equality for the oppressed black people in the USA.

Malcolm X and King, although very different, both worked towards civil equality based on the teachings they had interest in and which they studied thoroughly and taught their beliefs on how equality was to be achieved through media and public speeches . Malcolm X was inspired by the NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad’s mentoring of white people being the evils of the world as the white society aspired to keep black people from achieving political, social and economic success (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001). This set him on a mindset of retaliation, achieving equality “by any means necessary” (Haley & Malcolm X, 2001) and a sense of black superiority. King studied Mohandas Gandhi’s resistance method of non-violence and non-retaliation (i.e. Gandhian technique) which was successful during the British oppression in India from 1800s. Also as a minister, King took in the Christian concept of non-retaliation (i.e. 1) “turning the other cheek”) (English-Korean study Bible Matthew 5.39). The Gandhian technique and his Christian belief gave King the confidence in power of love for the enemy, and the attitude of 1) “turning the other cheek”

In conclusion, as Malcolm X and King both wanted equality for the oppressed African-Americans, they approached their vision in contrasting methods and beliefs. It was obvious that they differed in opinion as they experienced opposing childhoods, backgrounds, studies and religion. But they both aspired to achieve a free, justified and equal society for everyone in America by spreading their ideas using media and speeches.


  1. By “turning the other cheek” in page 3 and 4, it means that when someone slaps you in your cheek let them slap the other side by turning the other cheek. This was from one of the teachings from Jesus Christ. He figuratively meant that when someone attacks you or harm you, don’t retaliate but rather let them do what they do because retaliation would only bring even more violence and harm, create enemies, and also because revenge is up to God (Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19)
  2. On page 2 and 3, the phrase “Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword” is a verse from Jeremiah 44:12. This verse summarizes up King’s attitude towards achieving equality as the verse means that those who work their way with injustice, violence or any other deceiving methods will come to a downfall from the same method. Hence King believed that should civil equality be achieved by violence and retaliation the equality would soon be disturbed by violence and retaliation.
  3. “Send the guerrillas to Mississippi” on page 3 was a statement made by Malcolm X. By guerrillas he probably meant the armed civilian Black Power workers. He said this as he was aware of the brutality that African-Americans were receiving in Mississippi, a Southern state in the US, and as he wanted to stop the brutality.

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Analyzing Dr. Martin Luther King And Malcolm X Vision For Equality And Freedom From Racism In The 1950s And 70s. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 2, 2022, from
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Analyzing Dr. Martin Luther King And Malcolm X Vision For Equality And Freedom From Racism In The 1950s And 70s. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Jul. 2022].
Analyzing Dr. Martin Luther King And Malcolm X Vision For Equality And Freedom From Racism In The 1950s And 70s [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2022 Jul 2]. Available from:
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