Martin Luther King and Malcolm X remains a force to be reckoned with as leaders in the aspiration towards black freedom and black’s equality with whites. Martin Luther King as the leader of the civil rights movement who participated in non- violence demonstration is known for his advocacy in this light. Malcolm X as the leader of Nation of Islam and his advocacy towards whatever it takes kind of mentality is respected for this by his admirers and followers. As one explain the political advocacy of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X one will notice a strong tie with their various religious beliefs which were Christianity and Islam.
In attempting to answer the thesis stated above one will begin by evaluating the political advocacy of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Martin Luther King’s advocacy derive from a sentiment of political activity without collective cooperation towards violence. He fought against the system defiantly but not in the same way one would suppose. He was a supporter of non- violent sit-ins and other aspect of political movements that purposely was targeted towards a united state (ironically). Malcolm X on the other hand was less idealistic and called for social change by any means possible. He advocated for political change through protests and other socio- political means. Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King as we will evaluate intertwine respectably but also differ in their backgrounds, political advocacy and religious believes.
Malcolm X was politically inclined towards resistance even to the extent of violence. Malcolm’s background laid a foundation for his political activities. His role as an aggressive protester towards freedom derived from somewhere as one might guess. A theory one proposes is that his verbal and physical protests comes from his background.
Malcolm X explained, “[My mother] defied them that she was alone with her three small children, and that my father was away, preaching, in Milwaukee. The Klansman shouted threats and warnings at her that we had better get out of Omaha because the good Christian white people were not going to stand for my father’s “spreading trouble” among the local “good” Negroes with the “Back to Africa” teachings.”(Malcolm X) This experience was one of Malcolm X’s main motivations towards his kinds of protests.
Malcolm X must have been shaped politically to advocate so fiercely against whites due to the turmoil he experienced as a boy. White Klansman had threatened his family and this anger theoretically must have furbished Malcolm X mentality of freedom at all cost even to the extent of a civil, social, political war. Malcolm X must have seen the correlation between religion and power as this was part of what later led to his rebellion against the state in leading the nation of Islam and the likes.
” It has always stayed on my mind that I would die by violence; I have done all that I can to be prepared. (Out in the world later on, in Boston and New York, I was for years insane enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be light complexioned. Now, I hate every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.)” (Malcolm X) It is very important to see the way in which Malcolm X thought of himself as a man manifest openly in his political activities. He had been the product of rape as a baby due to the hands of a white man. This is not only mentally decapitating for a man; it could boil anger that could motivate violence or rebellion. His mental state must have been expatiating pressure and anger towards whiteness. This can be assumed because Malcolm X even talked about hating whites so much that he hated his skin.
Malcolm X like any other African American identified more with his African side. This must have perpetuated a love inside of him for the African race; in which he prides himself. This was also a different perspective that Malcolm had in being prideful about his heritage, African pride was not very common during this era. African pride was later to be one of Malcolm X’s main protest and preaching. He believed in respect for his race; in which he demanded that blacks forcefully, if not given to them fairly, take the respect that is due to them.
As described here the death of Malcolm X’s father played an important role in his future political advocacy; as anyone who experienced such a loss would have been shaped by it . He explains…” I remember waking up in 1931, again to the sound of my mother’s screaming. When I scrambled out, I saw the police in the living room. All of us children who were staring knew that something bad had happened to our father.” (Malcolm X) The devastation of the death of Malcolm X’s father and the horror that befell his family is one of those moments that brewed or could have brewed anger in the heart of Malcolm X. Malcolm’s family threatened by white racist, his father died in the hands of violence. This could have been and presumably is a root to why Malcolm X anger towards the white racist and led him to such violent passions as he had participated in.
” A newspaper article wrote that, “Death by violence has brushed
Malcolm X three times-as a child, as a hustler, as a Muslim.”(Malcolm X)This quote summarizes the root of Malcolm X’s passion as one might assume that it so caused him to pursue all rebellion against racism even if it took several violent actions.
At the root of the Muslim belief is after all, if you kill by the sword, you die by the sword. This anger, disaster and death, all caused by the whites, was purposely shared to show why Malcolm X would be for black freedom at any cost. Also, it shows why he would choose Islam as his prime religion; especially since Islam is a religious practice of revenge as established from prior knowledge of the Holy Koran.
Malcolm X advocated theories such as these: “these blond, pale-skinned, cold-blue-eyed devils-savages, nude and shameless; hairy, like animals, they walked on all four and they lived in trees. (Malcolm X) This description Malcolm X gave to whites was obviously not appropriate for the time neither is it now, but it does reflect a tone of hate and anger. It assumes anger, hate and ignorance. Somewhat like reverse racism; but this was Malcolm X’s intent to an extent; and this was what he preached in rallies and protests, sometimes.
He began several policies of reverse racism by calling whites devils. His story of the way whites came to earth propelled a somewhat mental enticement for African Americans who already hated whites. It is vital that one understand this aspect of Malcolm X’s advocacy because it fed resentment and brewed hateful thoughts from the blacks that followed X. This laid a foundation for all blacks that anger was okay and that force and violence might just be the way, presumably.
Another aspect of Malcolm X’s advocacy was manners, poise and physical presentation. “I had never seen many Christian-believing Negroes conduct themselves like the Muslims who came, the individuals and the families alike. The men were quietly, tastefully dressed. The women wore ankle-length gowns, no makeup, and scarves covered their heads. The children were mannered and neat.”‘(Malcolm X) According to this quote, one of Malcolm X’s prime advocacy after becoming Muslim was education and physical appearance. He taught that black men and women should act with manners and control themselves. He had admired, been enticed, by Muslim culture and conduct. He used Muslims as prime examples of good conduct and the likes. One could easily argue that Malcolm X was a conservative at heart but is advocacy were nothing short of liberation and openness.
Malcolm X was defiant and spoke indefinitely with strength and courage; he said…”I feel that if Negroes attack white people, then those white people should defend themselves, with arms, if necessary, if the forces of law are inadequate. And I feel that Negroes, if white people attack them, should do exactly the same thing.” (Malcolm X) Like the Muslim traditions Malcolm believed in the theory of an eye for an eye. He respected that everyone should not be passive but aggressive. His statement was at the root of Malcolm X’s political advocacy towards violence. He verbally and kinetically expressed his ideas as he lead some blacks in an aspiration for freedom from oppression and one of racial equality and opportunity for all even if it took violent outrages.
Malcolm X spoke at a conference in New York City; there he described his message or political liability. He says that they must “recognize that anyone who can assemble so many well-disciplined young Negros together as swiftly as [he did] should never be underestimated as a force to be recognized and reckoned with…” (Lincoln, C. Eric; pg. 83) This quote serves as an acknowledgment of Malcolm X’s aggressiveness. It depicts his control over what he wanted to achieve and he will by no means back down from war till his goals are reached. As one could assume Malcolm X dissented weakness and passivity. When he gained ground politically he began to use himself as a prime example of assertiveness that the black man needed to have or aspire towards.
Malcolm X as stubborn as he had been also called for openness; “Malcolm X [had hosted a meeting in Harlem where he] called upon all black leaders to set aside “petty differences and to “reason together and keep open minds.” (Lincoln, C. Eric; pg. 134) Malcolm X did not only stand by his valor towards forceful equality, but separation, he appeared to be open-minded. Malcolm X advocated for openness within the African American community from all leaders whether Muslim or not. One of those petty differences he mentioned was religion and one could say his targeted leader could have been Martin Luther King.
Martin Luther King had hopes for an equal state. He did not believe in violence as his protests and beliefs suggest, therefore he did not promote it. As one attempts to explain King’s advocacy there might be more differences to Malcolm X than similarities.
Martin Luther King was non-violent but still very resistant towards the status quo. One of Martin Luther King’s supporters once used this quote: “a man’s moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.”William Faulkner'( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) Martin Luther King as Christian leader political advocacy can be described in two words: idealistic and balanced. With the quote from William Faulkner in mind, one could label Martin Luther King as a liberalism whose advocacy towards democracies was asserted by his assurance of God and his will for all human beings ire. blacks or whites.
” In the second half of the twentieth century, [a] [vision] of radical democracy were birth that confronted modernity’s dream quest. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the beloved community [was one.]” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin) The beloved community is a community whereby people from all backgrounds and denomination can come together as one in harmony and peace. The beloved community is at the core of King’s protests. This is the idea he so sacrificially fought to attain. Martin Luther King called for togetherness at all cost, he called for a united nation whereby equality would be the culture and brotherhood its joy. He called for love. Lastly he called for hope.
The main element or ingredient of King’s advocacy was that of the beloved community as explained. “The democratic dreams of King emerge from a “subliminal” place in their psyches and lives.” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin) The African American hope for a better future is a testimony of faith and hope under King, that there was limited space and time to dream but those who followed King experienced limited rights but was strengthened by the hope they had for a better future.
An author, “C. G. Jung writes, “While born in the “nocturnal” sides of [his] consciousness, King [was] able to effectively translate and communicate [his] dreams to the “diurnal” world. [His] democratic dreams struck a chord with people’s movements and connected so deeply with social and political movements in their struggle for true equality and freedom.” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) As established here, Martin Luther King’s political weapon was more psychological that physical. He pursued the heart and conscience of whites; not their world. King’s methods could be explained like this: For example, it is easy for a person who wants to be successful to go to school and be motivated to do well than for someone who has nothing to look forward to be motivated. King presumed that if African American could touch the hearts of whites everywhere then racism would or might decline.
One could say King had a liberal way of thinking about human nature.
Martin Luther King did not just advocate for injustice in America, he fought for equality all over the world. ” King and the black freedom movement not only fought for racial justice in the United States, but also animated global struggles against racial oppression, economic exploitation, militarism, and imperialism.” (Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) King did not only protest against unjust laws; he resisted such aspects of the world system like imperialism, militarism and other forms of exploitations. King’s advocacy went beyond that of defending blacks in America. He had a universal message and was involved politically amongst diverse groups of people all over the world. He visited countries such as India, African nations and other oppressed imperialistic places. He saw the world as unequal and unjust, not just the United States. A difference from Malcolm X’s approach is that King did not point fingers. He just accepted that the world order needed to change and that he was going to help.
” King…advocated a politics of love with a focused critique of imperialism and a rapacious capitalism…” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) King was interested in improving the state of those under the demon of imperialism. He was also for a fair capitalist state. King unlike Malcolm X was balanced in his advocacy; he protested against black struggles but he was also involved in other areas of life. I.e. the economy
King’s idealistic stage is just as important for the evaluation of his politics. The holy bible was a major tool that King used in his political advocacy. “King’s democratic dream was based on his theological imaginary, animated by a radical political interpretation of the meaning of the life and teachings of Jesus” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) He had taken the sentiment from the bible that if someone slaps you on a cheek, give them the other. At the heart of this idea did king’s idealistic protests derive? King’s purpose was to drive the heart of blacks into a protest that will change this generation and the next generation. He was non-violent and submissive to an extent but his fight was beyond diplomacy it attacked the mind and the spirit of racist America.
” King’s vision of beloved community finds its fullest expression in the transcendent and immanent love of God.'”( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) The above quote serves as a foundation of the philosophy to which King’s political activities derive which is the idea of oneness amongst all humans; and the idea that we are all children of the most high and we should treat each other as such.
King’s suffering was a big part of his advocacy; one could say he modeled this from Jesus Christ. “King’s dream was born in suffering: his own suffering and the suffering of all God’s children.”( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) King could easily be disregarded as not a participant in the black struggle because he was educated and somewhat comfortable economically; but he did suffer at the hands of oppression as well. He suffered at the hand of unjust whites; a prison sentence. King not only lived the politics he advocated for, he had empathy for those who were not under him for example, some whites or Latinos He was a protester of the power of s uffering as it is common amongst those who have changed the world.
” It was in these darkest of moments of King’s life that he was at a threshold of a horizon of hope. The night his home in Montgomery was bombed, an angry, frightened, and confused King prayed for God’s help at his kitchen table. In the stillness of that moment King resolved to continue the quest for justice and the instantiation of the beloved community.” (Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) One could only imagine the dreadful feeling that Martin Luther King felt after the bombing of his home. As established by Heltzel, it was not easy for Martin Luther King to advocate for nonviolence. The easiest thing he could have done is retaliate after the bombing of his home, but he continued his foundational protest against nonviolence. One could assume that psychologically King was rather hurt rather than angry at white racist. One can assume this mainly because of his response to such events as the bombing of his home.
” By forging ahead through his dark night of the soul, King became inspired by multicolored dreams of democracy. A dream he was dedicated to making a reality within his prophetic black Christian theological imagination. In so doing, he intimately links it with the life and teachings of Jesus with acute reference to the idea of the Kingdom of God.” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) In this respect King used the idea of the kingdom of God to give the people a backbone and example of the life of sacrifice. This kingdom of God phrase does attest to a hope that was the only source of power for African Americans against oppression. He explains that, “the Kingdom of God has both an “already” and “not yet” character. King uses beloved community to refer to the “already,” earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Beloved community is the “creation of a society where all men can live together as brothers, where every man will respect the dignity and the worth of human personality.” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) Malcolm X supposedly believed this same concept but King lived it and made it the root of his messages and protests. He scarified his emotional and physical health by responding to injustice with love. He refused to disrespect authority as this is not a biblical principle. Martin Luther King’s strength was not his own but from his foundation of the gospel which he had been taught from his youth.
‘” For King the telos of the civil rights movement was not only the political liberation of individual African Americans…’ (Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) King not only desired the freedom of African Americans, he wanted equality between all groups. In his protests ” the most authentic material manifestation of beloved community is radical democracy; it is the space and place where all God’s children, regardless of race, creed, and color, are free to fulfill all of their God-given rights.” ( Heltzel, Peter Goodwin ) Radical democracy to King did not mean force; it meant an ideal democracy that itself was radical in nature. As one can see King prime political beliefs were not far from what the framers had created, but there were still some ways to go in achieving this ideal democracy.
In order to tie Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther King advocacy to their religious background one need to conjure several sources of their bias and preference of certain religions as they used them as a backbone for what they were protesting.
” Whether [Malcolm X] was inside a Nation of Islam mosque or outside, his speeches provide a vivid account of one retort’s perception of the possibilities for protest.” (Robert E. Terrill) Based on this observation of the differences of the way Malcolm X addressed his audiences, it was crafted based on the audience he was addressing. One could assume that he felt more comfortable speaking to a black crowd or inside the mosque of the nation of Islam. But as we know, comfort could always be adjusted in order to attain a certain goal. Malcolm X religious ideology was Muslim and at the heart of Islamic teaching was all that Malcolm X stood for. One could say Malcolm X mirrored Islam and for this reason their belief system became one. The story behind most of Malcolm X’s political and social protests is much interconnected with myths from the holy Koran or Muslim bible. A short description of this myth is as follows: ” In its fully realized form, “Yacub’s History,” as this myth was known, the audience is told that the end of the white race has been pre-ordained and that nothing can be done to hasten or halt its demise. Specifically, the white reign will end when a half-mile-wide “Mother Plane,” currently orbiting the earth, releases 1,500 “Baby Planes” piloted byblack men who have never smiled and who each will drop upon . The white cultures of America and England three bombs.” (Robert E. Terrill)
” Malcolm delivered “Black Man’s History and as C. Eric Lincoln points out, ‘Muslim teaching . . . has a strong attraction for some blacks” because “to be identified with a movement that openly rejects the fundamental values of the powerful majority is to increase vastly one’s self-esteem and one’s stature among one’s peers.’ (Robert E. Terrill) One could assume that imbedded in the doctrine of Islam, were the various elements of life that Malcolm X advocated for like aggression and will power. Naturally it would be easier for Malcolm X to incur his belief system thus protest from his passion, which one could assume could have easily been Islamic traditions and beliefs. Also, Malcolm X tie with Islam must have happened because he felt strengthened by Islamic teaching. I.e. an eye for an eye
Malcolm says, “Just as “the white man has never separated Christianity from white,” so the Nation of Islam does not separate Islam from black. Therefore, it combines history and religion into a seamless ideological whole.”(Robert E. Terrill) According to Malcolm X, Islam and blackness are synonymous. After all, it is the religion of the oppressed according to X. Malcolm X does not advocate for a something that he is not. He is a Muslim and he is a black man and he believes that blackness should acknowledge that Islam is the only spiritual force that cares about blacks. With this said, he protested using the structure of the holy Koran and implemented Islamic traditions to his teachings
Malcolm X did not derive his theories from pure ignorance. He actually experienced Christianity growing up and he sees it as culturally mannered but not aggressive enough or what he chooses to be. Actually, “Malcolm’s father was a Baptist minister whose views were deeply influenced by the “black gospel” of Marcus Garvey. Malcolm’s mother, influenced by Caribbean spirituality, mistrusted denominations and taught her children to follow their inner wisdom. Malcolm’s religiousness, says DeCaro, must be understood in light of his parents’ Garveyite convictions (stressing black religiousness and an openness to Islam), religious eclecticism and standoffish attitude toward organized religion.” (Louis A. DeCaro Jr.)
Malcolm X background did not ground him in any particular religion but the struggles of his life and the mirror he views into, which is Islam, did shape his political and religious views. His parent’s openness and lightness towards religion also could have been what shaped Malcolm X’s individual and personal choice to become a Muslim.
The way in which Malcolm X became a Muslim and the condition he was in when he was done is a notable correspondence to his devices. “Malcolm’s relationship to Elijah Muhammad was both his salvation and his undoing. After his conversion in prison and during his early ministry in the Nation of Islam Malcolm was an exemplary disciple, conflating his dedication to the Nation with his adoration of Elijah Muhammad. “( Louis A. DeCaro )
Malcolm X was Islam and because he was Islam he fought and died as an oppressed black man, just like the brave Muslims in the holy Koran had exemplified. Elijah Mohammed as his mentor in prison, who was Muslim, was a great influence on his conversion to Islam thus helping X to perpetuate Islamic principles.
Since Islam is at the heart and soul of Malcolm X’s political advocacy, one could assume that most of what Malcolm X stood for was Islamic in nature. The various elements and structure in Islam strongly believe in retaliation. Unlike King’s advocacy, violence was a tool in which Malcolm X tried to retaliate.
While transitioning to Martin Luther King’s advocacy and how religion influenced it, one will come to a conclusion that every speech or issue (particularly equality) that Martin Luther King advocated for was taken from the natural spirit of the Holy Bible (the holy book for Christians). In almost every account of Martin Luther King’s political advocacy was the bible.
Martin Luther King’s background spiritually inclined towards Christianity. The process of understanding scripture is never complete.” (Keith D. Miller) Since his youth, Martin Luther King had been grounded in Christianity. His parents were not as loose religiously as Malcolm X’s parents had been; therefore King naturally was inclined to remain Christian.
King had derived ideas of most of his speeches from the teaching of the Bible. He had respectfully expressed the same idealistic approach of Jesus Christ. His background as a minister not only mirrors his passion, they are his passion and this leads him to protest sayings of love and acceptance just as Jesus Christ had preached.
One could argue “that King defines and enacts [his] “I Have a Dream” [speech] as biblical narrative and biblical hermeneutic-a definition and an enactment that are basic to the meaning of the oration and that therefore demand our attention.” (Keith D. Miller) As one can observe Martin Luther King’s most notable and famous speech, “I Have a Dream” main components were derived from Christian principles. His longing for love over economic or social liberation can only be felt by King because of his schooling in the bible. His I Have a Dream speech, which is at the pinpoint of King’s advocacy, main theme is the message of love and togetherness. The message of love and togetherness is the soul of the message of the life of Jesus, including the cross according to the Holy Bible.
‘ ” As James Cone explains, “A separate faith emerged among black Christians in the United States because they believed that the God of the Exodus, the prophets, and Jesus did not condone the mistreatment they received from whites” (Martin 122)” (Keith D. Miller) In simpler terms based on this depiction of the black movement, Martin Luther King and his Christianity encourage blacks to see their plight as that of the slaves in the bible, in whom God is their God and salvation and a promise in the after life is their hope. He used the story of the Israelite as a great account for his protests. His protests could easily be described as freedom is possible because those before us had overcome oppression. He also offered hope to the oppressed that, like the Israelite, God would redeem them. King also established a forum amongst blacks that justice was not the responsibility of blacks to forcefully take but that of God. Martin Luther King must have seen the God of the Christian faith as a principal of love, justice and hope and that was why he had worshiped him and actively used God as a forum for strength. King not only shared theories from the bible, he also shared stories. These stories helped King with his teaching of the power of God as outlined in the happenings of the olden days written about in the Holy Bible.
King took several stories from the bib”After being convicted of violating an unjust law during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956, King reflected on his setback: “You don’t get to the Promised Land without going through the wilderness” (“Address” 200). He based his entire 1957 homily “The Birth of a New Nation” on Exodus , interpreting Egyptian slavery as a common, albeit temporary condition and observing that oppressed people will eventually revolt because they”cannotbe satisfied with Egypt” (20).” (Keith D. Miller) King referenced stories in the bible and compared them to the black struggles. For example, he took the story of the Israelite le of proper governing to depict to the public, both black and whites, the way in which leaders of old governed and how they tackled several issues which concerned America at the time especially blacks. As one is familiar with, King advocated for government in general, not just blacks. He was a social reformist transformed and inspired by the bible and biblical principles. ” Later in [his] speech, instead of selecting original phrases for the climax of the “I have a dream” litany-the King’s and other protestors’ constant and ubiquitous use of the word freedom in practically every anthem, chant, sermon, and oration of their movement
[ This] can be seen as a reference to a goal shared by the Hebrews in Egypt, Hebrews in Babylon, and African Americans under segregation, a goal whose realization was guaranteed by God.” (Keith D. Miller) Martin Luther King did not choose his own words in his protests, he would use quotes from the bible. This technique was used in the hopes that the conscience of the white man would be pricked. King had a liberal way of thinking of human nature, he believed that whites and blacks were all children of God and that they were capable of unity.
As described in the excerpt above and the other statements made by some sources, one could arguably say that at the heart of Martin Luther King’s advocacy was Christianity. It served as a backbone for his various protests and messages of love, hope and equality. Not only did King advocate preachings from the Bible, his teachings were the Biblical and as one will notice King’s idealistic dream as celebrated today is a dream come true.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King political advocacy did not resonate from thin air. They mostly came from their background as a child , young adult and adult. The principal elements of their backgrounds was religion. This religion served as expression of the heart and passion of both men.
Martin Luther King’s background derived from that of Christianity, while Malcolm X passion was expressed through Islam. One could say the passions of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X differs because of the way he which they expressed themselves. Martin Luther King’s protests could be seen as coming from a goal towards love and togetherness while Malcolm X’s could be described as respect and equality. In either scenario, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s passions were co-established by their religion; Christianity and Islam.
As one hopes and aspires through the teaching of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, a conclusion one cannot ignore is this: that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were world-shapers and odd- deifiers. They, through courageous efforts have criticized, died and lived through impossibilities. At the heart of their protests and advocacy is a backbone that at most cannot be ignored; this bone is their religion.
As the minister of the Nation of Islam and as a Christian Minister, both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X created an indivisible and divisible medium in which they advocated for social and economic freedom of their people. This is their stories and these stories are integrated and shaped by facts taken from the holy books of Moslems and Christians, the Koran and Bible. There is no need to deny that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X will remain a spiritual, physical, social, political, religious and economical force to be reckoned with; and all respect is due to their beliefs or religion.
Heltzel, Peter Goodwin . “RADICAL (EVANGELICAL) DEMOCRACY: THE DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANTONIO NEGRI .” Political Theology 10.2 (2009): 287-303. Academic Search Premier . EBSCO. Web. 28 Mar. 2010.