Malcolm X: Friend or Foe
Since the advent of his death, Malcolm X has been renowned as one of the great negro leaders of our time. One question that has been raised is whether his efforts were a hindrance or help to our cause. I would argue that while his actions and philosophies were unorthodox, I believe they were necessary. On the one hand, physical violence was arguably not necessary to further our cause, but at the same time seeing the difference between the radical and more conservative civil rights movements. While no, Malcolm X's violent protests did nothing to beholden our cause to the American people, it did give followers of Martin Luther King Jr. a lot more credibility.
Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, changed his name in an attempt to put his ancestors' slave past and the surname of the slaveholder behind him. During his 20's he converted to Islam. The religion of many of the African countries, Islam was another way for X to reconnect to his African roots. Malcolm X urged separation as opposed to the integration supported by many of the other leaders in the fight for equality. X was convinced that the Negro could not have a place in America. He urged Negros everywhere to stand up for a place where Negros could be together and to rebuild, or to be returned to their countries of origin. Malcolm X thought that the Negro would never become a part of American society and that the only way to preserve the African-American was to de-American him. X pursued a philosophy that typified what he thought was best for the Negro and for black culture.
The militant views of Malcolm X led to violent protests. I would argue that X's philosophy regarding gaining equality and respect at any means necessary was not effective in and of itself. From what I've seen, violence does not solve problems. It did, however, make the claims of MLK and other non-violent activists seem more reasonable to the general public that at the time was not entirely supportive. Then, when non-violent protests were met with violence, it made the aggressors seem all the more less reasonable, furthering the cause, and hopefully will lead to non-violent protests being met with peace and respect.
As a member of the Nation of Islam, X's spiritual beliefs differed greatly from the norm. While it may be true that Islam was the religion of many Africans, Christianity has become a large part of black culture. Gospel music and faith in Christ were a huge part of Martin Luther King Jr's inspiration to have equality for every man, regardless of color, and without his leading we would not be where we are today. Shortly before Malcolm X's death he left the Nation of Islam. This led to numerous threats on his life both public and private. Between those events he began to speak more conservatively, still urging for self-defense of rights, but willing to make some concessions toward segregation, and even met briefly with Martin Luther King Jr.
Was he a friend or a foe to equality? You decide.
Nearly six years ago the world was a different place. The Klan was stronger than ever before, racism pervaded every aspect of our culture. Our attempts at integration had been repeatedly pushed back. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X fought for our rights. They battled inequality differently, yes, but fight it they did. Since then, both of those great men have died for our cause. And still the fight goes on. We are, however, gaining ground. There is hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. We have been strong, we are strong, even in spite of the loss of those two great men. I do believe, though, that they still have many things to teach us. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the rhetorical strategies and tools Martin Luther King Jr. used in his Dream Speech.
Martin Luther King Jr. began his speech by not only imitating Lincoln's “four-score” but by alluding to his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. He called it a “great beacon light of hope,” but that even today there is not freedom. Here we are, six years later, and still fighting the fight. Now, however, our hope is that the end is nigh, that resistance to equality for all races is dwindling. Despite doubts about the accuracy of that statement, we must not slow down now. We must press on towards our goal, and not be passed or quit when the end is in sight. And if that belief is erroneous then of course we must press on, we must not be content with second-class citizenship for any person, for any reason. Segregation and discrimination must not be allowed to persist for any reason, or towards any group of people.
King went on to discuss the rights of man as given by the Constitution. The document of the nation, the Bible of the patriot. For if the Constitution cannot be relied upon, then what good is any of it? How does the nation differ from the one from which it came? Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that for the nation to ignore our cause would be to incite a revolution like that from whence we came. Swords have been taken up for much less noble causes. Having seen King's philosophy on non-violent protests, I doubt that it was either an endorsement or a threat, but having also seen the popularity of Malcolm X, and the Black Panther movements, I think people have settled for too little for too long, and that if a solution is not forthcoming, that tensions may explode.
Finishing with the repetition of his dreams, Martin Luther King Jr. rallied the people. King dreamed of an America where White and Black were colors on Crayons and where the sons of slave owners and the sons of slaves will sit at the table of brotherhood. He dreamed a dream of equality. He dreamed of justice and of the America, that our founding fathers intended for us. He dreamed of the America that gives every child a chance to grow up to their full potential. That is the America that I want to live in.
Malcolm X: Ballot or Bullet
Malcolm X: Ballot or the Bullet
In Malcolm X's The Ballot or the Bullet speech, he stirred up the people. His words instilled fire in his listeners and rallied them together with appeals to unity. X also urged to make the problem a human rights problem and not a civil rights problem. Ultimately, Malcolm X said that the Negro would take either the ballot or the bullet.
When drawing his audience together, X said, “It's time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem — a problem that will make you catch hell whether you're a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist. Whether you're educated or illiterate, whether you live on the boulevard or in the alley, you're going to catch hell just like I am.” He did discuss his being a Muslim, but he did not want religion, or anything, to divide the Negro people. He used a lot of repetition to solidify that unity. We're anti-exploitation, we're anti-degradation, we're anti-oppression. These terms that we all support are terms that anyone would support. It makes people who don't agree with X, take the first step. He used it to get his foot in the door.
Not only did Malcolm X intend to unite the Negro people, but he wished to unite them with the rest of the non-white world. X urged for the conversion from a civil rights issue to a human rights issue. With human rights being the problem, other world powers would be able to intervene and “throw their weight” behind the Negro push for equality. Malcolm X used the allusion to the “American Dream” and changed it to the “American Nightmare.” He said that if black “Americans” truly were American, they wouldn't need help to become equal. If the Constitution was followed, they would be equal. He said that if the Constitution was followed that all of the politicians that supported segregation would be arrested for breaking the law. They weren't getting arrested. The Government wasn't, and isn't, doing its job. With outside help, Malcolm X believed that the fight for equality could be accomplished without, or at least with less, violence. Not that he didn't condone violence in self-defense of one's rights and one's property, but he disagreed with breaking the law or the edicts of the Constitution.
Malcolm X was for the ballot or the bullet. He warned the nation's politicians that if the Negro did not get the ballot, he would use the bullet. Malcolm X alluded to Patrick Henry's Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech in order to draw to attention the similarities between Great Britain's tyranny of the colonies, and the United States' tyranny of the Negro. X warns that the death would be reciprocal, that for each dead black man, they would take with them one hate-filled hypocrite. He said, “It takes two to tango; when I go, you go.”
Malcolm X drew together black Americans with the outside world, and argued that if the Negro was not given his God-given, fairly due rights immediately, that the Negro would protect those rights using any means necessary.
I've Been to the Mountaintop
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an incredible man. A PHD from Boston University, four children, and perhaps one of the most well-known and influential civil rights activists of all time, MLK was a man who overcame some extreme challenges. Additionally, he was a Negro. Fighting the stereotypes and prejudices of the time made already difficult challenges even harder. His faith in Christ and his belief in equal rights for all people carried him through. In Martin Luther King Junior's Mountaintop speech, he gives a sermon on many things. One: a need for unity, two: a need for non-violent resistance, and three: hope for better days.
MLK began his message with an appeal to a united front for everyone who desires racial equality. “We've got to stay together and maintain unity.” He connected the blight of inequality with the way that Pharaoh kept the ancient Israelites submissive by pitting them against each other and conquering them through their divisiveness. As soon as all of the Israelites got behind Moses, they were able to leave slavery and get out of Egypt. Martin Luther King Jr. did an incredible job of maintaining a strong “we” without really dividing a “them.” It would be incredibly difficult for even the most hardened opposition to civil rights to not be a part of MLK's “we.” “We are saying that we are God's children.” “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” His “we” was a very loving and inspiring “we.” It is the “we” that we all want to be.
Martin Luther King Jr. argued that non-violent protests are the only way to succeed in demonstrating that you are indeed worth as much as anyone else and deserving of respect. He urged boycotts on businesses that supported segregation. He said that while separately the Negro race is poor, but together they make greater profit than Canada's national budget, and that if we withdraw funding from businesses where segregation is prevalent that we can make an impact on our world. MLK taught that we ought to do these things not out of a desire to be equal or to have respect or even because we think we deserve it. He urged his listeners to eliminate segregation and prejudice in order to make the United States a better place, to make America a better nation.
Throughout Martin Luther King Jr's speech he interwove Biblical themes that many, if not all, of his listeners would be familiar with. He paralleled the plight of the Israelite slaves with injustice of racial inequality in America. He told the story of the Good Samaritan, helping out others despite the consequences of what might happen to me in order to ensure that the helpless are cared for. He let the people know that he was not afraid to die for what he believed in. He let them know that he had been to the very edge and that it had not given him cause to step back or slow down, but to press on, to fight the good fight, to finish the race.