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Civil rights movement in America

Despite the stop of slavery in the United States at the end of the 19th century, African

Americans were still subjected to regular discrimination, were forced to use separate schools

and public utilities from the better-quality ones of the whites, and they could not fully

exercise their voting rights. By the 1950s, the blacks started to mobilize their fellow African

Americans against discrimination. Civil rights groups came up and fought for equality in

employment opportunities, voting rights, education, and housing. Civil rights activists

engaged in various activities to challenge the draconian customs and laws to obtain equality

for all Americans. The activists won some milestones; among them the 1954 Brown against

Board of Education Supreme Court decision which declared unlawful and unconstitutional

the states that demanded that white and black students attend different schools. However,

institutionalized and systemic racism continued to persist oppressing the African Americans.

The environment, having given the African Americans the chance to see that where black and

white citizens equal, attracted Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to fight for the civil

rights of black Americans. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King became significant persons in

the struggle for freedom for the blacks (Waldschmidt-Nelson 142). Contrary to their image as

adversaries, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X should be properly understood as fellow

justice fighters in the historical African American Civil Rights Movement, who were
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struggling against the same evil - racism - and for the same goal - freedom for African


Though Martin and Malcolm contrasted in their approach to realising freedom for

African Americans, their view on American racism, policy, and society functioned to break

the ideological and legal footing of white supremacy in American society, and also

transformed the blacks and like-minded people for the social change. Malcolm X and Martin

Luther King Jr. were born and raised in different family environments. Malcolm was raised in

a poor home while King was raised in a secure middle-class family that stressed education.

The early backgrounds of the two activists contributed to their different reactions to

American racism. Malcolm X was raised in an environment of anger and fear due to the seeds

of bitterness planted in him after his house was burnt down by the Klu Klux Klan, murder of

his father, divergence of his family after her mother underwent a nervous breakdown. The

circumstances led him to a life driven by the desire to revenge and full of hatred. Both

activists finally emerged as icons of African-American culture and caused a great impact on

black Americans. King believed that the blacks, through arguments and peaceful

demonstrations, would regain total equality with the whites. King advocated for the

integrationist’s philosophy; he believed that the blacks and whites could get unified and live

together peacefully (Riches 304). However, Malcolm X believed in separationist and

nationalistic doctrines, influenced by his angry and pessimistic belief. The two activists,

although they adopted different philosophies, through their philosophies influenced the social

agenda, moral, and the tone of the black power movement and civil rights struggle. Malcolm

achieved his success in the North while King achieved his in the South. To appreciate the

achievements of the 1960s for the African-Americans requires viewing contributions of

Martin and Malcolm as complements-complements that worked for a symmetric whole –

equality for African-Americans.

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In their fight against race prejudice and racism, Malcolm and Martin in 1965, began to

think about the race relations and liberalism between blacks and whites. Malcolm said that

the blacks needed to unite in brotherhood and advocate for unity for the blacks in the fight for

their rights. Malcolm said that the whites could help the black achieve their dream of

equality, but they could not join them in a black/white unity until there first exist a black

unity (Cone 72). Martin urged the black people not to abandon their dream of an equal

America where everyone would have their rights without racial discrimination. In his

preaching, Martin said that he dreamt of a day when all the rough places would be made

plain, which he meant that he looked forwards to an end of racial segregation. However, King

began to have a negative view of the whites, and, therefore, lamented that white Americans

were unconscious racist. Malcolm X believed that the blacks needed first to be separate and

become self-governing, the basis for ‘Black Nationalism’ philosophy. Malcolm advocated

that the black communities control their economic and political environments and make them

attractive to those willing to join them from outside their race. Malcolm X spent a great part

of his life, after leaving the Nation of Islam, in cultivating good relationships between

African-Americans, Muslim nations, and Africans (Hall 132). In 1951, Malcolm X presented

and overview of the fight by blacks to the United Nations, asking for injunctions against the

United States for crimes against the African Americans humanity. The presentation brought

Malcolm into the public limelight, and in his speech he outlined how certain American

societal norms and laws promoted the oppression of the blacks. In 1964, Malcolm made a

speech in which he declared that there would be freedom for everyone or no freedom at all.

Although neither Martin nor Malcolm X began the Civil rights Movement, their

articulation for African Americans collective subjectivity was imperative for the success of

the resistance. However, Martin’s speech widely referred to as “I have a dream”, encouraged

resident leaders who were fighting for equality civil rights legislation. From the 1950s to the
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1970s, civil movements advocating for equality, justice, and social rights were widespread in

the US. A majority civil rights protests were non-violent, as promoted by civil rights front-

runners like Martin Luther King, Jr., but others, such as Malcolm X, became impatient with

the peaceful protests and continued the forthcoming harder-edged protests. King was detained

30 times due to his fight for civil rights for the blacks (Howard-Pitney 57). Police forces used

violence in fighting the civil rights protestors and even engaged with the Klan to commit mob

attacks on civil rights groups such as the Freedom Riders. President John F. Kennedy and

Malcolm X were assassinated in 1963 and 1965 respectively. In 1965, desperation and anger

pushed by the many years of discrimination, oppression, and police brutality developed into

violence in the Los Angeles. The violence, which was elicited by the racially founded arrest

of black motorcyclists, developed to be the most lethal urban uprising at the time in the

United States. The violence shook the nation, but in the next years it made the citizens come

together celebrate their acquired civic freedom. Malcolm X demonstrated to the masses the

lengths that human beings must go to secure their freedom (Hall 41). The civil right

movement’s leaders adopted the same commitment to fighting for black’s freedom.

Consequent to the struggle for civil rights, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approved and

brought an end to employment discrimination and segregation in public places. The 1964

ACT was followed by the Voting Rights Act if 1965 that put an end to discrimination of the

black in voting. Malcolm X, although he could have resisted these acts, had created the

atmosphere for the passing of both acts in a Congress and society that were dominated by


Towards the end of his life, King moved his civil rights movement to the Malcolm's

territory, the North. He further adopted more radical approaches, similar to those of Malcolm

X, by advocating for the suppression of poverty and the provision of an assured annual

income for all the American citizens. King further came out in opposition to the Vietnam
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War, recommended the restructuring of the American Society, and preached for black self-


Malcolm X and Martin Luther, despite their differences in methods, founded a

collective identity for the blacks to call them to fight against social injustices and gain a

future of real equality in education, civil practices, education, and employment opportunities

(Howard-Pitney 105). Malcolm X established himself as an advocate for ethnic separatism

for African Americana and then to all Americans. Malcolm's careless language repelled white

listeners, at first, but it later came to be welcomed by people of all races. He turned out to be

a more open-minded and eloquent communicator and hence his work was more appreciated.

Malcolm X and Martin helped fight the difference among the blacks, mount black power to

enable them overcome the hatred that bounded them.

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Works Cited

Cone, James H. Martin and Malcolm and America: A dream or a nightmare. Orbis Books,


Hall, Simon. Peace and freedom: The civil rights and antiwar movements in the 1960s.

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

Howard-Pitney, David. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and the Civil Right Struggle of

the 1950s and 1960s. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004.

Riches, William T. Martin. "The Civil Rights Movement: Struggle And Resistance, (Studies

In Contemporary History) Author: William T. Ma." (2010): 304.

Waldschmidt-Nelson, Britta. Dreams and Nightmares: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X,

and the Struggle for Black Equality in America. University Press of Florida, 2012.