Martin Luther King Explains his Disagreement with Malcolm X

Image: Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh and Martin Luther King Jr. at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights, June 21, 1964

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Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X never collaborated, and their protest strategies seemed completely opposed. However, two brief, unplanned meetings between Malcolm and the Kings suggested that Malcolm, in the year before he was assassinated, wanted to support King’s efforts. King ‘s comments on the first meeting were collected by Clayborne Carson, who edited a compilation of King’s writings, speeches and private comments called The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. The excerpt below is drawn from this source. Other sources give more details about the meeting, which occurred on March 28, 1964, after a Senate hearing on proposed Civil Rights legislation. Both men had watched the hearing, and after King gave a press conference, Malcolm walked up to speak with him, telling King, “I’m throwing myself completely into the civil rights struggle.” Malcolm had just broken with the “Nation of Islam” organization led by Elijah Muhammed, which denied there could be any peace between black and white people. In an interview, Coretta Scott King described a second meeting that occurred the following February, when Malcolm visited Selma, Alabama, while King was being held in jail after leading a group of black citizens to register to vote. While there, Malcolm sat next to Mrs. King at a Civil Rights gathering where both spoke. He asked her to pass a message to her husband: “I want you to say to him that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job more difficult, but I thought that if the white people understood what the alternative was that they would be more inclined to listen to your husband.” Later that same month, Malcolm X was assassinated by a member of the Nation of Islam.
—Ellen Tucker

Below, King explains his view of Malcolm X.

In the event of a violent revolution, we would be sorely outnumbered. And when it was all over, the Negro would face the same unchanged conditions, the same squalor and deprivation—the only difference being that his bitterness would be even more intense, his disenchantment even more abject. Thus, in purely practical as well as moral terms, the American Negro has no rational alternative to nonviolence.

When they threw eggs at me in New York, I think that was really a result of the Black Nationalist groups. They had heard all of these things about my being soft, my talking about love, and they transferred that bitterness toward the white man to me. They began to feel that I was saying to love this person that they had such a bitter attitude toward. In fact, Malcolm X had a meeting the day before, and he talked about me a great deal and told them that I would be there the next night and said, "You ought to go over there and let old King know what you think about him." And he had said a great deal about nonviolence, criticizing nonviolence, and saying that I approved of Negro men and women being bitten by dogs and the firehoses. So I think this kind of response grew out of all of the talk about my being a sort of polished Uncle Tom. 

My feeling has always been that they have never understood what I was saying. They did not see that there's a great deal of difference between nonresistance to evil and nonviolent resistance. Certainly I'm not saying that you sit down and patiently accept injustice. I'm talking about a very strong force, where you stand up with all your might against an evil system, and you're not a coward. You are resisting, but you come to see that tactically as well as morally it is better to be nonviolent. Even if one didn't want to deal with the moral question, it would just be impractical for the Negro to talk about making his struggle violent. 

But I think one must understand that Malcolm X was a victim of the despair that came into being as a result of a society that gives so many Negroes the nagging sense of "nobody-ness." Just as one condemns the philosophy, which I did constantly, one must be as vigorous in condemning the continued existence in our society of the conditions of racist injustice, depression, and man's inhumanity to man.

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