Sunday, January 15, 2012

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. It will be celebrated tomorrow with school closings and a bank holiday. I have always wondered how Martin Luther King would have felt about that. Originally I had planned on running the iconic "I Have A Dream" speech to commemorate the day.

But then I started listening to some of his other speeches, some of which I remember from when they were given. I finally chose the one above to illustrate the point that, in spite of Martin Luther King's rhetoric, he was not that far from the beliefs of Malcolm X, who is often perceived to be the antithesis to Mr. King concerning the methods necessary to bring about a change in Civil Rights. They were closer than you might think, or have been taught.

Martin Luther King has gone down in history as the non-violent leader of the Civil Rights Era, while Malcolm X has secured his place in history, based only upon his early beliefs in the violent overthrow of "whitey". This is a simplistic and uninformed view of both men.

While Mr. King is known for his non-violence, he is often short changed when it comes to acknowledging the demands he made from his own people, just as Malcolm X did. Both men wanted equal treatment of the races. Both wanted to be respected as human beings. The difference was in their individual styles, and approaches, to the issue.

Martin Luther King wanted to be given equal rights, as if it was within the Provence of the State to do so. Malcolm X took these rights as God given, and was not about to beg for them.

But things change, and as Martin Luther King grew more frustrated with the slow pace of the movement, Malcolm X was growing spiritually. Returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm saw that he, along with thousands of other so-called Black Muslims, had been sold a false bill of goods by their leader Elijah Mohammed, the titular head of the Black Muslim movement. When Malcolm came back from Mecca he broke with that movement and began a church of his own, based upon his experiences in Mecca, which had given him intellectual growth. He began to understand that black separatism was not the answer.

Meanwhile, in a subtle reversal of roles, Martin Luther King had become angrier, and more politically active concerning the War in Vietnam, which he felt was being fought with a disproportionate number of young black men being drafted. In other words, he was becoming more polarized.

Malcolm, on the other hand, had been to Mecca, and for the first time he had seen Muslims of all colors. This experience softened his stance on the separation of the races, making him believe, for the first time, that only an unfettered dialogue on race could bridge the divide.

So, in essence, over a period of about 10 years, both sides began to see, and understand, the other side of the argument concerning racial disparity in America.

I hope that you will take the time today to listen to both of these video clips from You Tube. Listen carefully, beyond the catch phrases, and you will see that both of these extraordinary men basically stood for the same things; Dignity, Justice and Equality for all people.

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