Malcolm & Martin

One of the many things that frustrates me about our culture is that we tend to either glamourize or villainize. Circumstances and people are rarely all good or all bad. We tend to only see the good in the dead, which is not a terrible thing, what really is accomplished in focusing on the negative of that which can no longer be changed. We tend to only see the good in our side. If you identify as Republican your candidate can do no wrong, if you consider yourself a Democrat your side is perfect. It’s not different in church when we believe you have to be baptised, or it’s not really that important, you have to be dunked or you can just be sprinkled. It’s my way or the highway!

When we went to Washington DC one of the monuments we visited was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. It was one of my favorites, I loved how he loomed large and was surrounded by quotes that inspire us still today. Yet I knew very little about Malcolm X who was also an influential civil rights leader, except he has been villainized by history.

I started by reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X which I will admit I had a tough time getting into it until Laurence Fishburne read it on and I felt like Malcolm X himself was telling me his story and I could not get enough of it. After reading his autobiography, I realized that in addition to my lack of knowledge of Malcolm X, I really don’t know that much about Martin Luther King, Jr aside for the quotes that have become so famous and easy to access on the internet. So my current book is Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare by James H. Cone. Cone parallels the making of these two men and how they came to such different conclusions.

I hope that this will whet your appetite to read Cone’s book!

Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Raised by a Southern Baptist minister
  • His father changed their names from Michael to Martin Luther after a trip to Germany in 1934
  • Integrationist – self-respect was tied to being an American
  • Attended white college and seminary and earned a doctorate degree – felt encouraged and supported by whites in charge of his education
  • 1948 started seminary
  • Studied Gandhi and believed change was possible through peaceful means
  • Became a spokesperson for the Civil Rights movement because of his charismatic, articulate speaking style and peaceful ideologies that appealed to blacks and whites alike
  • Assassinated April 4, 1968 by a white criminal known to associate with white supremacists

Malcolm X

  • Raised by a Baptist minister that was shot when he was 6
  • Nationalist – self- respect tied to Africa and blackness. His father was a nationalist and student of Marcus Garvey
  • Dropped out of school in 8th grade, bright promising student discouraged by white people who saw his potential as limited because of his color. Ended up educating himself while in prison
  • 1946 imprisoned for burglary
  • 1948 converted by the Nation of Islam
  • Changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X to recognize the loss of his African heritage
  • Became a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam because of his charismatic, articulate speaking style and ability to relate to the blacks in the Northern ghettos who felt left behind
  • Assassinated April 21, 1965 by a black member of the Nation of Islam because Malcolm denounced Elijah Muhammad the Nation of Islam prophet.

Both men were deeply impacted by their faith. Martin focused on how we were created by the same God as equal while Malcolm held that the white man was breed to do evil and the only way for the black man to be equal was to reestablish a pure African nation. Both men wanted blacks to better themselves and devotion to their respective faiths was how to do that. History may just show that Malcolm was more devote in his faith and moral living than Martin. It was however, “Malcolm’s fanatic commitment to the liberation of the black poor [that] alienated him not only from most whites and many black middle class, but also, as it turned out, from his own religious community…” (Cone 183). In 1964 Malcolm X denounced Elijah Muhammad and his Nation of Islam and was killed a year later. Cone speculates that this break with the Nation of Islam pulled Malcolm X into the political mainstream of the Civil Rights movement and that he and Martin may very well have ended up as powerful collaborators had their lives not been cut short.

While I don’t agree with Malcolm X’s religion, it made him want to better himself and he wanted better for his fellow black citizens. It was his faith that delivered him from drunkenness, drug addiction and crime that he claimed was destroying ‘Negro Christians’. It was his faith that lead him to be a husband and father to his children. It was his faith that lead him to speak out against the oppression of Black Americans. I admire that he spent his time in prison educating himself and reading to expand his world. He tells in his autobiography how we copied the entire dictionary to improve his penmanship and expand his vocabulary! Now that’s impressive!

So what does this all mean for you and me today? I think it’s this: How is your faith motivating you to better the planet? Why aren’t we more vocal about how our faith has changed us and speaking up for those who are still oppressed? Why are we still allowing the media to be the most powerful entity on earth? Why are we contributing to it’s power by our own hatefulness and condemnation on social media?

At the end both Martin and Malcolm had the courage to stand up and speak for equality and justice. Our voices are still needed today. How will your story end?

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