What were the key differences between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X during the American Civil Rights Movement?

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were arguably the two most important leaders during the American Civil Rights Movement. Although both were dedicated to ending racial discrimination towards African Americans and achieving racial freedom, the two appeared to differ significantly in their ideology and tactics.

Martin Luther King was an integrationist, whose main aim was to bring about racial equality through both races mixing and working together.

However, Malcolm X was a black nationalist with a firm belief in black supremacy. Although he also wanted civil rights, he championed black superiority over whites and wanted the races to be distinctly separated, as he remained suspicious of white people and believed that African Americans should only seek to help one another.

The issue of how to achieve their goals also differed. To achieve racial equality, Martin Luther King believed non-violent resistance was the key to ending all violence and racial hatred, in order to eventually achieve equality between races. These non-violent tactics were evident during peaceful protests such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955.

Malcolm X on the other hand, believed that non-violent methods were too slow to achieve progress and signified weakness. He strongly believed in black pride and that African Americans should achieve their goals “by any means necessary”, advocating black militancy both as a form of self-defence and defiance against white aggression. 

Answered by Lucy H. History tutor


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