Students in Laura Kuchler's 7th-grade language arts class at West Oak Middle School in Mundelein asked: "Were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X friends?"
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were civil rights leaders in the late 1950s and early 1960s who worked to allow blacks the same freedoms that whites enjoyed. At that time, some towns in the south denied black Americans the right to vote or forced them to pay a tax if they tried to vote. Other injustices included inadequate schools, restrictions on where blacks could sit on a bus and oppressive limits on the way blacks lived.
Dr. King, a fourth-generation Baptist minister, spoke of creating positive social change through nonviolent means.
"At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love," he said.
Dr. King directed the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, which successfully brought an end to the policy of forcing black Americans to defer to whites when selecting seats on busses. That success led to more nonviolent protests and marches that brought national awareness to the unfair treatment of blacks. King's leadership and support drove Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964.
Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was a Muslim minister and a leader in the Nation of Islam organization who also fought for equal rights for black Americans. He believed the nonviolent message was acting too slow, or not at all, and encouraged his followers to use any tactic - even violence - to achieve equality. Malcolm X's father was murdered by white extremists; his childhood home was burned in an unresolved arson and he was subjected to life in foster care and juvenile homes. As a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X gained recognition worldwide as a black leader. He admired Dr. King, sent him letters and invited him to participate in Nation of Islam meetings.
On March 26, 1964, Dr. King and Malcolm X met for the first and only time. They were speaking at a Senate debate in support of the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which would outlaw racial segregation in schools, at work and in public institutions.
About that same time, Malcolm X began to change his views and he left the Nation of Islam to create his own organization. His new aim was to develop a brotherhood with blacks and whites. This new goal was short-lived. Malcolm X was assassinated by three Nation of Islam members on Feb. 21, 1965. In response to this tragedy, Dr. King wrote this in a letter dated Feb. 26, 1965, to Malcolm X's widow:
"While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem."
Even though Dr. King's message was of nonviolence, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot and killed by an extremist who could not accept the hard-fought changes that would improve the lives of black Americans. In recognition of Dr. King's tremendous contribution to civil rights in our country, construction is underway to build a national memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.
Stanford University's Web site "The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute" includes images of a letter and telegrams written from Malcolm X to Dr. King and a copy of the letter from Dr. King written to Malcolm X's widow. You can see these and other items at mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu.
Check these out
The Wauconda Area Library suggests these titles on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the civil rights movement:
• "Extraordinary African-Americans," by Susan Altman
•"Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement," by Ann Bausum
• "100 African Americans Who Changed American History," by Chrisanne Beckner
• "Portraits of African-American Heroes," by Tonya Bolden
• "I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr," by Walter Dean Myers
• "Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly," by Walter Dean Myers
•"The School is Not White! A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement," by Doreen Rappaport
• "Child of the Civil Rights Movement" by Paula Young Shelton