By Dr. David Caruth
Posted February 27, 2015
Have you ever asked yourself why both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were gunned downed by assassins in the prime of their lives 50 years ago? I have, and what I have to say might surprise you.
On the surface, it appeared that Martin and Malcolm held different spiritual beliefs, and pursued opposing outcomes for Americans of African heritage. Dr. King was a college educated Baptist minister, and used his voice and the power of his pen to support civil rights and integration of the races. While Malcolm X, on the other hand, was a street-smart Muslim minister who used his voice and the power of his pen to support black self-determination and separation of the races.
Dr. King was best known for his direct action and passive resistance, while Malcolm X felt more justified using any means necessary, to end the morally wrong and unlawful oppression of African Americans. Dr. King chose to use the power of love, to transform the minds of racist factions in America. While Malcolm X sought to shock the conscious by suggesting that African Americans fight to establish a black-owned nation-state within the United States.
To achieve their seemingly diametrically opposed outcomes, both men taught their followers how to respond in the face of threats of bodily harm. Some of Dr. King’s followers (a cross section of men, women, children, of all races and various religious beliefs) were asked to turn the other cheek, and pray for those who attacked them. Malcolm X’s followers (primarily African American men), on the other hand, had to stand their ground with the discipline of a paramilitary unit until ordered to take action. Both Dr. King and Malcolm X understood two fundamental truths: the battle ground for transformational change is in the mind; and their followers were required to feed on strict diets of discipline, direct action, education, and faith.
If you look more closely at their lives, you will see that Dr. King and Malcolm X shared more commonalities than you might think. Both of their fathers, Martin Luther King Sr., and Earl Little, were Men of God. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Baptist pastor, and missionary born in Stockbridge, Georgia. While Earl Little was a Baptist minister, and community organizer born in Reynolds, Georgia, a short 80 miles away from each other. In light of their father’s vocations, or callings, its not surprising that they both turned out to be men of God, and that their spiritual journeys transformed their thinking, perspectives, actions, and their religious beliefs.
Both Dr. King and Malcolm X were arrested and jailed, albeit for very different reasons. Dr. King was arrested and jailed for committing acts of civil disobedience. Malcolm X, was arrested and sent to prison for committing common crimes. Nonetheless, both men preached sermons in houses of worship, wrote and delivered powerful speeches, and ground their thoughts and ideas in the Word of God.
As we learned from Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” taking direct action was the last step of a 4 step non-violent campaign to bring about change. The first 3 steps in Dr. King’s non-violent campaign routinely received less attention: 1) collect the facts to determine if injustice exists; 2) negotiate; and 3) self-purification. Without all 4 steps, a non-violent campaign for change would have failed.
In Malcolm’s “The Old Negro and the New Negro” speech, he made it plain that African American integration into white society, and being subjected to unjust laws was undesirable and would fail. In stead, he sought to transform the minds of “so-called Negros” because he wanted African American men to: think for themselves; speak for themselves; stand on their own feet; and walk for themselves. His aim was to free our minds, so that we could fully engage in self-governance.
In the beginning of this article, I stated that it appeared that Dr. King and Malcolm X held different spiritual beliefs, and pursued opposing outcomes for Americans of African heritage. I believe they did pursue different outcomes; however, they shared one quintessential spiritual belief; like Jesus, they laid down their lives.
They also valued systematic change. Dr. King’s non-violent approach called for us to collect the facts and determine if injustice exists. Malcolm X’s approach called for African American men to think for ourselves. Who is in a better position to determine if injustice exists? Is it the perpetrators of injustice, or the men who get subjected to it on a daily basis?
Dr. King’s approach called for African Americans to negotiate. Malcolm X would insist that African American men speak for ourselves in the negotiation process. Who is in a better position to know what African Americans want? Would it be African American men, or white men whose ancestors built or benefited from a socio-economic system that enslaved and later exploited black labor?
Dr. King suggests that African Americans go through a self-purification process. That process would cause blacks to clean ourselves up so that we could win the support of the majority. Malcolm X could argue, and rightly so, that the Nation of Islam has a history of cleaning up African American men, and that African American men could stand on our own feet and govern ourselves without interference from the white power structure.
Finally, Dr. King suggested that we take direct action. For Malcolm X, that means black men walking for ourselves. Both men had the courage to take direct action. Dr. King’s action was designed to achieve broader goals for our country as a whole; while, Malcolm X’s actions reminded all who would listen, that black men were determined to stand-up and walk, by any means necessary.
Understanding their commonalities and differences does not explain why both of them were murdered. I believe they were gunned down because they had the courage to speak truth to power, and that the spirit of Christ enabled them to lay down their lives so that others might live more abundantly. Together, they represented the best chance for African Americans to overcome the vestiges of 4 centuries of racism and oppression. Had both men lived, and were able to continue their teachings, more African Americans may have learned how to take disciplined direct action, and developed into leaders better equipped to help the poor break the cycle of poverty.
About the Author
Dr. David Caruth is the founder and President of God’s Perfect Timing Ministries, (GPTM). GPTM is a 501 C 3, non-profit organization that helps the poor and homeless reclaim the dignity of their lives. Dr. Caruth overcame poverty after being struck by lightning at football practice as a senior in high school. He went on to author two books: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty with Education and Faith; and 6 Keys of Spiritual Transformation. Dr. Caruth’s books are available at: www.davidcaruth.com or from online booksellers.