The Legacies of Civil Rights leaders

December 6, 2011

Political Theory


In Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”, he states that he feels as if he is not even a true American because he is not given the right to vote. He preaches black nationalism and makes it clear that he is not afraid to use force, if needed. The line that he comes to by most recognized with, in fact, is “by any means necessary.” Malcolm X is openly critical of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and his nonviolent Civil Rights movement. Malcolm X feels that there needs to be a struggle for basic human rights rather than for civil rights. While Dr. King led countless nonviolent protests, Malcolm X had a different plan. He advocated the use of violence and the need to obtain basic human rights, no matter the cost. He was an open proponent of integration, what many identify as the main goal of the Civil Rights movement. Malcolm X was a strong supporter of black nationalism and the need to create a unified black state, separate from the white racists. MLK, however, is known as a big supporter of integration. In his most famous speech,” I Have a Dream”, he discusses his hopes for a future where children of all races and backgrounds can play together with no regard for race. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King shows a viewpoint very different from that of Malcolm X when he states “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”  MLK is  clearly expressing a feeling of belonging in the US, just not under the racially dictated society of the time. Despite their two very different views, MLK and Malcolm X are considered two of the most important Civil Rights leaders. However, MLK gets much more attention and recognition than Malcolm X. Why is this the case?

The United States, as a country, does not like to remember its own history as a violent or non-accepting one. In all of my high school history classes, I can remember countless lessons on the positive things that the US has achieved, but much less attention focused on the failures and blemishes on our nation’s history. Growing up in Atlanta, I remember learning an enormous amount of information about MLK and the Civil Rights movement, but much less focused on Malcolm X. This post  is not meant to disrespect Dr. King in any way, just to point out the way he is seemingly idolized by today’s society, yet Malcolm X, who was arguably just as involved in the struggle for African American rights, seems to be forgotten. Malcolm X preached violence while Dr. King taught peaceful protest. Either way, though, both were important leaders in this time period.

We learned in class that John Stewart Mill believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to speak their opinion and be heard. Not allowing someone to do so, in fact, Mill considers to be robbing society of this person’s opinion. Malcolm X expressed his opinion, yet it is often overlooked in today’s society. Despite MLK’s seeming success, he could not have achieved what he did without the work of Malcolm X and other leaders of the time. Often, MLK is considered to be the leader of the Civil Rights movement, when, in fact, there was no one true leader. Despite the fact that Malcolm X’s views are regarded as more radical and even violent, they did have a lasting effect and important influence on the outcome of the Civil Rights movement and, specifically, on the Black Power movement. So why is his opinion not shared nearly as often as that of MLK? Does Malcolm X not deserve the same recognition? He had an enormous influence on this country and the people it in, so why dos he seem to always just remain under the radar?

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