Martin Luther King and Malcolm X shared a common goal: Civil rights for black Americans — but they had very different philosophies about how to reach that goal. Malcolm X embraced violence and openly attacked MLK’s strategy of non-violent resistance, calling it “psychologically insecure.” However, King’s philosophy did include resistance in a “very strong and determined manner” without the use of violence.
King never wavered from this belief, and his methods worked. In 1964, Congress, led by Republicans, finally passed the Civil Rights Bill, which had been delayed repeatedly, as well as opposed and voraciously fought against by Democrats for decades. But the tide had turned to side with reason and right.
After listening to Congress debate the bill, Martin Luther King made his way through the throngs of admirers on Capitol Hill when a tall, lanky man stepped out of the crowd.
“Well, Malcolm, it’s good to see you,” said Martin Luther King.
“It’s good to see you too,” replied Malcolm X.
Those were virtually all the two icons ever said to each other, in their only face-to-face meeting. Many have said that Malcolm X was beginning to moderate his views, eventually appreciating King’s successful, non-violent approach.
In February 1965, violence visited Malcolm X when he was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam. Three years later, the peacemaker Martin Luther King, Jr. would also be assassinated. Robert F. Kennedy, the man who had approved wiretapping MLK’s activities, made the announcement to a stunned and horrified crowd.
I’m only going to talk to you for just a minute or so this evening because I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens and people who love peace all over the world. And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
While Martin Luther King, Jr. was not able to fully realize his dreams, he did inspire a nation to dream on:
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.
It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have 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.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”