An Overview of Black History

Compiled & Edited by Phillip True, Jr.

24. Martin and Malcolm: Two Lives

by Mahmoud El-Kati

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 11, 1929. He grew up as a middle class Black from a family of four generations of Black Baptist ministers. Malcolm Little, better known a Malcolm X was born May 19, 1926. He was one of seven children from a poor family, his father was mysteriously murdered and the family was split up and Malcolm became a ward of the state.

At the tender age of 15, Martin entered college at Morehouse in Atlanta, Georgia. At 15 Malcolm was entering a life of crime in Boston, Massachusetts. At 19, Martin was studying theology in seminary school in Chester, Pennsylvania. Malcolm at 19 was already a master of street life. At 21, Martin was now at Boston University in pursuit of a Ph.D. in systematic theology. At 21, Malcolm was finally caught, convicted, and sentenced to a seven-year term in a Massachusetts state prison.

Martin and Malcolm were contemporaries. Malcolm was just three years older than Martin. They were both victims of assassinations at the age of 39. Malcolm was killed rather boldly on February 21, 1965 in full view of five hundred people at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York. The life of Martin was snuffed out on April 4, 1968 rather stealthily, by an alleged lone assassin in Memphis Tennessee.

Martin as a 26-year-old minister, had come to Montgomery, Alabama to pastor Dextor Avenue Baptist Church in 1954. Little more than a year later, he was swept up in the great post war protest event on the part of Blacks that caught the eye of the nation. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, a movement that was to change the course of Black and general American history.

Malcolm X on the other hand, began his social consciousness in prison with conversion to Islam under the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm had only an 8th grade formal education, but while in prison he committed himself to a life of study. He read everything from history to philology, including reading the dictionary from end to end. When Malcolm was released from prison in 1952, he was by all accounts a learned man. Throughout the rest of the 1950's, Malcolm became an outstanding recruiter, organizer, and spokesman for the Nation of Islam.


In examining the lives of these two men, there is not so much an either/or possibility as a both/and possibility. They both were right in their opposition to the domination of their people. They were both right in respecting and embracing the history of African people. (Few people realized that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. King were at an independence ceremony in Ghana in 1957. The first African state to gain independence in modern history.)

The argument among students of history and people at large as to who was right or wrong, good or bad, with respect to Martin and Malcolm, makes about as much sense as picking between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Those two did not agree. On the overside of things, Malcolm and Martin did not agree. But on the underside of things, they were fierce lovers of freedom, who served well the cause of Black liberation

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