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Martin and Malcolm: Two Voices for Justice

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Martin and Malcolm: Two Voices for Justice America in the mid-twentieth century was turbulent with civil unrest among the black community. In the face of white oppression it tested the limits of democracy to achieve the rights entitled to all under the Constitution. Rising to the forefront of this struggle for civil rights were two men, whose leadership and passion distinguished them as the two major black voices of the time. These men are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Although each was fighting for the cause of freedom, their means for achieving it differed significantly. However, as the civil rights movement gained momentum each developed an appreciation for the other's work. The circumstances surrounding Martin and Malcolm's upbringings contrasted greatly. Martin was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia into a middle-class family.1 As the son of a prominent Atlanta Baptist minister, Martin was instilled with the ideals of justice, love, obedience, and hope. Through the church he was taught that the integrationist values of protest, accommodation, self-help, and optimism were the best means through which to cause change.2 Along with religion, education played an important role in Martin's development. At the early age of fifteen he was accepted to Morehouse College, where he earned a degree in sociology, and went on to pursue a divinity degree at Crozer Seminary in Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. ...read more.


He viewed integration as blacks begging whites to become part of their institutions, and said, "No one respects or appreciates a beggar." To Malcolm, there could be no unity based on equality between blacks and whites until there was first unity within the black community. 22 Dominating both Martin's dream of America and Malcolm's nightmare of America were two distinctive religious traditions in the black community. One was Christianity, which blacks reshaped in light of their struggle for dignity in American society. The other was Islam, which blacks also redefined to express their hostility towards the white oppressors of American society.23 Martin based his idea of the American dream on the assumption that America was a Christian nation, which had failed to fulfill its religious identity as the Kingdom of God, as well as its moral vision of freedom and justice. As a Black Muslim, Malcolm based part of his idea of the American nightmare on the myth of Yacob, which claimed that "an evil black scientist created the evil white race six thousand years ago because they were destined to rule the world for that period of time." He believed that America was doomed because "the God of justice" would destroy it for its sins.24 Linking the two denominations of Martin and Malcolm was faith, which had been created in the black struggle for dignity. ...read more.


In private, among close friends, Martin reportedly said, "I just saw Malcolm on television. I can't deny it. When he starts talking about all that's been done to us, I get a twinge of hate, of identification with him."36 Equally significant was Martin's adoption of such phrases as "blackness" and "domestic colonialism," words coined by Malcolm. Martin even concluded that "temporary segregation" was probably the only way to overcome powerlessness in the black community. Also, Martin began to admit, like Malcolm, that there were only a small number of whites that were genuinely committed to equality. Due to their profound respect and effect on each other, James Baldwin claimed that "by the time each met his death, there was practically no difference between them."37 Although Martin and Malcolm complemented each other, they also corrected each other. Martin still challenged Malcolm's abusive and vindictive language against whites, and believed that his philosophy of self-defense was foolish. Likewise, Malcolm remained militant and challenged Martin's idea of nonviolence.38 Realistically, a genuine coalition between the two men could never have existed because of their loyalty to self-defense and nonviolence, both of which were derived from their different religious faiths. Neither was willing to compromise on these issues.39 Together, Martin and Malcolm lifted the black community out from the pits of depravity and shame. They each symbolized a necessary component in the civil rights movement. The legacies they left behind continue to inspire those in the struggle for racial justice. ...read more.

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