In his autobiography with Alex Haley, controversial civil rights activist Malcolm X began to soften his rhetoric on black supremacy and the inherent inferiority of white people near the tail end of his short life, which ended tragically on February 21, 1965 at the Audobon Ballroom in Harlem, New York.
A year prior to his assassination, Malcolm X had travelled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he experienced for the first time in his life a sense of racial equality among white people who were adherents of traditional Islam.
His Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca was in all likelihood the reason he converted to traditional Islam, after having spent some 12 years as a member of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam — a sect which is not viewed as a legitimate expression of traditional Islam.
His public humiliation by Elijah Muhammad for his insensitive remarks on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 further strained their relationship. Malcolm X’s break with the Nation of Islam would prove to be permanent, especially after he founded Muslim Mosque and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
For the overwhelming majority of his career as leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X’s radical ideology on race relations clashed with the nonviolent ideology of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
King was determined to adhere to the message of nonviolence outlined by Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount and Indian anti-colonialist Mahatma Gandhi, who also advocated nonviolent tactics in his protests against British control of India.
For all intents and purposes, King’s nonviolent resistance bore legislative fruits, as evidenced by the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 — the latter becoming law days after King’s untimely death.
For his endeavors in fostering peace in an otherwise violent and chaotic environment that characterized America during the 1960s, King was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 — an award Malcolm X would’ve never been considered for, for obvious reasons.
Malcolm X’s refusal to take part in the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, underscores the ideological differences between the two civil rights leaders — at that time.
From a human standpoint, SCLC executives and King could’ve easily retaliated, after having endured much suffering at the hands of Bull Connor, George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens’ Council and the general white American population that viewed African Americans as subhuman, as their founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, did.
In his volume titled “Racial Equality in America”, the late John Hope Franklin mentioned Jefferson’s condescending views about black people, which included disparaging comments about their body hygiene.
America, during the tumultuous ‘60s and ‘50s, could’ve easily descended into civil strife that could’ve mirrored the Civil War, after the killings of Edgar Mevers; four black girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church; Freedom Riders James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner; and a host of other civil rights martyrs.
King could’ve easily capitalized on the 1965 Watts Rebellion in order to destabilize a nation that was deeply entrenched in racial discrimination and inequality.
In each instance of unprovoked violence being meted out against African Americans and white civil rights activists, particularly the Bloody Sunday incident during the first Selma to Montgomery march, King stood firmly by his nonviolent principles, arguing that violent measures would only be playing into the hands of the Bull Connors of America.
The spate of violent race riots sweeping across the United States due to the apparent murder of African American George Floyd is evidence that King’s dream of racial equality and racial harmony has yet to be completely realized.
The looting and wanton destruction goes against all that King stood for.
As a Negro, I can understand the utter frustration of African Americans.
For millions of irate viewers of the nine-minute video in which Floyd was asphyxiated to death, the wheels of justice grind slowly.
Floyd’s death, some 12 years after the election of the first Black president, is a sobering reminder that America has a long way to go on civil rights matters.
— Kevin Evans