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Humanity has been plagued by segregation for millennia.

Physical differences

have set not just our bodies but our minds apart from one another. But although we may

drift away from each other, we are not lost. Two amazing people sought to bring us all

back together, to close the rift of race. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X sought to

obtain equality for their race, but both went about it in two very different ways. This is,

perhaps, best displayed in their greatest skill: oration. These two men, both significant

leaders and heroes during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, delivered two great

speeches that would change America forever. These speeches not only defined their

movement, but also defined the men who delivered them.

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr delivered his

famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of thousands. One year later, in Cleveland,

Ohio, Malcolm X delivered his famous “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech. Neither man

was present at the other’s speech; in fact Malcolm X and his followers were banned

from attending the speech. X denounced the methods of Martin Luther King, just the

surface of a deep disagreement in methods. However, many things changed for

Malcolm X in the year following King’s speech. The history of these men is very

important and can be traced back through their two great works.

Education and faith were strong pillars that held up the King household. Martin

Luther King Jr, originally Michael, was born into a middle class family in Atlanta,

Georgia. His father was a reverend, college educated, and served as a string role model

for his son. Martin Jr himself was intelligent from a young age, attending college when

he was just 15 years old. Once in, King continued to excel. He graduated with a

doctorate in Philosophy and also became a pastor. Religion played a large role in Martin
Luther King Jr’s life and those beliefs had a large impact on his “I Have a Dream”


Malcolm X had a much different childhood. He was born into a world of anger

and violence. At the hands of both of his parents, Malcolm suffered domestic abuse. His

father, however, taught him the lessons of black pride and to only trust in himself. These

lessons would appear throughout Malcolm’s life. As a young man, X was a very bright

student. He was mostly self-taught, following his father’s lessons on self reliance. But

life did not run smoothly for Malcolm, for the seeds of hate had already been planted

from every hand laid upon him. His life was continually marred by hate. At a young age

his house was burned down, killing his father. This drove his mother into madness. She

was placed in a mental hospital, separating Malcolm and his 8 siblings into foster care.

From here he continued a downward spiral into drugs and crime. Eventually he was

captured by the law and put in prison, where he studied the teachings of Islam.

Religion played a powerful role in the lives of these men, a lens for focusing their

beliefs. Martin Luther King asks to “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” He

uses his religious faith to strengthen and direct his beliefs in equality and freedom.

Malcolm X uses religion to channel his beliefs as well, but he takes a different path to

justice. His rise to power came from his studies and dedication to the Nation of Islam.

This Islamic group believed that black people were superior to whites, breeding racism

and feeding Malcolm’s hate. He opens up “The Ballot or the Bullet” by stating, “I just

can’t believe everyone in here is a friend.” This is contradictory to the way Martin Luther

King talks to everyone as if they are brothers and sisters.
Malcolm X may have been a realist, believing that everyone wouldn’t always

agree. His solution to this was racial segregation. Malcolm believed that the races

should be separated and that black people ought to have their own country. In his eyes,

blacks were clearly the superior race. Dr. King countered this by telling his people

inequality “must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white

brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their

destiny is tied up with our destiny.” He believed not in segregation but integration; that

the races could live together in harmony; that “one day… little black boys and black girls

will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Under the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X denounced integration, along with the rest

of the Civil rights movement. He preferred racism, aggression, and violence. Peace, to

Malcolm, was only attainable through violence. He preaches that these “honkies” and

“Southern cracker[s]” cannot be trusted “with their trickery and their treachery” and “it

can only lead to an explosion.” That’s why he calls for the white men to pass laws

quickly because it’s “either… the ballot or the bullet.”

Ideas of hate and love were taught to these men by their mentors. While his

father had a heavy influence on his views, Malcolm sought out Elijah Muhammad of the

Nation of Islam after his release from prison. He quickly rose through the ranks in the

Nation, speaking of black superiority, attracting followers of aggression and violence.

Malcolm spun his father’s influence into these teachings by preaching black pride. He

declared that when the white politicians are thrown out “you don’t need new legislation,

because they will be replaced with black representatives from… where the black man is

the majority.” Malcolm denounces America, calling all African Americans “the victims of
Americanism.” To this end he sought to rectify those victims with either “the ballot or the


Martin Luther King Jr was invested in the ideals of peace and love. He sought his

path through the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi; King even travelled to India to visit the

Gandhi family. The visit to India amplified King’s inspiration and admiration for peace.

He indulged in Gandhi’s use of civil disobedience to bring forth peaceful change.

Wielding the powerful knowledge of civil disobedience, King led his people to “the

greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of our nation.”

The beliefs of both men were denounced by the other during most of the

Movement. Malcolm X was not content with negotiating with white politicians, not

content with “deluding” himself. “I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat,

with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a

diner unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make

you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.”

Just as his methods were attacked, Martin Luther King countered those

accusations with a decree of peace: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by

drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must conduct our struggle on the

high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to

degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights

of meeting physical force with soul force.”

The difference between those forces is the ultimate difference between these two

great leaders. It’s that difference between soul and violence, integration and
segregation, equality and superiority, hate and love. It is the root of these men,

incorporating their origins, their faiths, their inspirations, and their people. It boils down

to the classic struggle between darkness and light. Malcolm X gives into his anger,

sowing the seeds of hate. “We’re… forced to use The Ballot or the Bullet… time has run

out!” With all of the anger and hate, Malcolm calls for a final attack. But Martin Luther

King uses love to combat “the storms of persecution and… the winds of police brutality.”

He sees past Malcolm’s inevitable “explosion” in his quest “to make real the promises of

democracy.” King said, “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of

segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.” While Malcolm would rather rob “the

bank of justice”, Martin Luther King has “come to cash a check.” While X had only “The

Ballot or the Bullet”, King saw a “destiny”. While Malcolm X said, “I see an American

nightmare”, Martin Luther King said, “I Have a Dream.”

In the end, love overcame hate. Malcolm X realized that all of the hate and

racism was not the answer. While he still believed that action was the best response, he

scorned his other teachings. After years of commitment to the Nation of Islam, Malcolm

left the organization and joined the Civil Rights Movement. He and King still had their

differences but both men believed in one thing: brotherhood; they came together to

achieve a common goal: justice. “The Ballot or the Bullet” was actually delivered after

Malcolm joined the Civil Rights Movement. He had a new view on the world, saying, “it’s

time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to… see that we

have the same problem… Whether we are Christians or Muslims or nationalists or

agnostics or atheists, we must first learn to forget our differences.” While his differences

still bleed into “The Ballot or the Bullet”, Malcolm subscribed to the ideas of brotherhood
and unity. Martin Luther King believed just as he did. While he wanted justice he also

wanted “to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of

brotherhood.” For this cause, these two men rose up to unify their people.

The road to unity and freedom was not an easy one, but eventually the journey

ended. With legislation from Congress, segregation was abolished and equal rights

were given to all African Americans. While two of the greatest leaders during that time

did not always see eye to eye, they achieved victory for their people. Martin Luther King

Jr and Malcolm X differed in their methods but they united to achieve a common goal.

As Martin Luther King said, “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Love

overcame hate, and these two men joined forces until the end of their days. Although

both men were assassinated shortly after the Movement (X in 1965 and King in 1968)

they were victorious. In the end the ballot was cast, not the bullet, and the dream was