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Contrast Between Martin Luther King Jr History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In 1960s there was an uprising in United States. The black communities were beginning to realize their constitutional rights. There were two bold souls that decided to take a stand, no matter the consequences. These great men were known as Martin Luther King, Jr. and

Malcolm X. They were both greatly influential leaders of the African-American Civil Right Movement, who strove for the same ultimate goal; however, they significantly differed in their social backgrounds, religious beliefs and ideologies.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were raised in entirely different environments, which later in life had a powerful influence on their characters and their views on racism. Martin grew up in the Southern United States, where racial segregation was legally mandated in American’s apartheid system. He spent his childhood in the protective cocoon of the black community, growing up in a middle-class family where love, good values and education were generated. As a remarkable student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grade and entered college at the age of fifteen. He continued to excel throughout college, graduating with two B.A. degrees in sociology and theology, and finally receiving Doctors Degree in Philosophy. His father, Martin Luther King, Sr. (quite often referred to simply as “Daddy King”) served as the first role model for young Martin Luther King Jr., and one of the principal influences in molding his personality. “Daddy King” was a preacher at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and an early leader in the American Civil Rights Movement, whose work encouraged Martin Luther King Jr. to follow his father’s footsteps and fully commit to the movement.

On the other hand, young Malcolm was raised in the Northern states, in a very hostile environment, where he faced family violence and daily onslaught of racism. When he was just six, The Ku Klux Klan tormented his family by burning down their house and murdering his father. His mother was forced to raise eight children until eventually she suffered a nervous breakdown. She was committed to a psychiatric hospital and Malcolm and other children were placed in foster care of white care. At school, he was one of the only black students in his class where he constantly experienced racism of white teachers. His resentment and disillusionment caused him to drop out of school. Lost, and driven by hatred and desire for revenge, Malcolm found himself in a ghetto life; life of crime and drugs leading to seven years of prison. Malcolm was dehumanized by his circumstances and needed a place and process to reclaim his sense of “blackness”. His psyche and spirituality were deeply damaged by societal racism. Conditions he grew up in prepared him to accept strong separatist philosophy as the basis for black survival.

Both men were greatly influenced by their strong individual faiths. Religion played a crucial role in their lives and development of their ideas. Following the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Martin Luther King Jr. became pastor for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr. embraced the reconciliation core beliefs of Christianity and sought to implement this in society. This is best illustrated in his “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963. King exclaimed, “I have a dream that one day, right there in Alabama, with its vicious racists…black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. Merging the Christian idea of perfect love with St. Thomas Aquinas’ charge that an unjust law is in the eyes of God immoral, and therefore, not a law, his strategies of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience began to take shape. Malcolm X’s journey took a very different path. He joined the Nation of Islam, a small religious group that taught racial separation, the inherent evil of whites, and the need to embrace African culture. The Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad, appealed to young Malcolm, because it embraced the richness of black history and culture, while completely rejecting white society and values. Malcolm X believed that black people must no longer view themselves through white lenses. He claimed that black people will never value themselves as long as they subscribe to a standard of valuation that devalues them.

Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X spread their views through assertive, hard-hitting, powerful speeches; however, the difference in their views and responses to American racism were evidently different. Martin Luther King Jr. adopted an integrationalist philosophy, whereby he believed that blacks and whites should be united and live together in peace. King was deeply inspired by Gandhi and his teachings; he encouraged his followers to passive, non-violent resistance and what he called “weapons of love”. Speaking to all of humanity, King made these famous peaceful words, “I have a dream, a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. Malcolm X’s philosophies presented a sharp contrast to those of Martin Luther King. He strongly promoted nationalist and separatist doctrines. He believed that only through revolution and force could blacks attain their rightful place in society. His famous line was “By any means necessary” and he spoke of violent revolution by claiming, “If it’s necessary to form a Black Nationalist army, we’ll form a Black Nationalist army. It’ll be the ballot or the bullet. It’ll be liberty or it’ll be death”.

Though different in their backgrounds, beliefs and methods, one cannot deny that both Martin Luther King Jr. were two of the most influential and powerful civil rights activists of the 20th century. They are remembered as martyrs who fought for the cause of Black America, and who gave hope to their people in times of desperate struggle. They are remembered as men who tried to instill strength and hope to their people so that they could overcome all the hatred that surrounded them. Finally, they are remembered as individuals who were ahead of their time and who died prematurely, working for a goal yet to be achieved: equality and justice among all races.


Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Howard-Pitney, David. “Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s: A Brief History With Documents”. Boston:Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2004

Malcolm X. “I’m talking to You, White Man”, Saturday Evening Post, 237 (September 1964)

Curtiss Paul DeYoung. “Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X: Different Views on the Question of Racism and Social Justice”. Guadeloupe, (November 2008)


Amelia Cotter. “Religious Backgrounds of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X”

(July 2010)


“The Nobel Peace Prize 1964”. Nobelprize.org (November 2012)


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