Chapter 25: Malcolm X
He was an eloquent spokesman for his point
of view and no one can honestly
doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that
we face as a race. While we did not always see eye to eye on methods
to solve the race problems, 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.
I met Malcolm X once in Washington, but circumstances
didn't enable me to talk with him for more than a minute.
He is very articulate, but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views-at least insofar as I understand where he now stands. 1 don't want to sound self-righteous, or absolutist, or that I think I have the only truth, the only way. Maybe he does have some of the answers. I know that I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem. And, in his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, 1 feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, as he has done, can reap nothing but grief.
In the event
of a violent revolution, we would be sorely outnumbered. And when
it was all over, the Negro would face the same unchanged conditions,
the same squalor and deprivation-the only difference being that
his bitterness would be even more intense, his disenchantment even
more abject. Thus, in purely practical as well as moral terms, the
American Negro has no rational alternative to nonviolence.
When they threw eggs at
me in New York, I think that was really a result of the Black Nationalist
groups. They had heard all of these things about my being soft,
my talking about love, and they transferred that bitterness toward
the white man to me. They began to feel that I was saying to love
this person that they had such a bitter attitude toward. In fact,
Malcolm X had a meeting the day before, and he talked about me a
great deal and told them that I would be there the next night and
said, "You ought to go over there and let old King know what you
think about him." And he had said a great deal about nonviolence,
criticizing nonviolence, and saying that I approved of Negro men
and women being bitten by dogs and the firehoses. So I think this
kind of response grew out of all of the talk about my being a sort
of polished Uncle Tom.
My feeling has always been
that they have never understood what I was saying. They did not
see that there's a great deal of difference between nonresistance
to evil and nonviolent resistance. Certainly I'm not saying that
you sit down and patiently accept injustice. I'm talking about a
very strong force, where you stand up with all your might against
an evil system, and you're not a coward. You are resisting, but
you come to see that tactically as well as morally it is better
to be nonviolent. Even if one didn't want to deal with the moral
question, it would just be impractical for the Negro to talk about
making his struggle violent.
But I think one must understand that Malcolm X was a victim of the despair that came into being as a result of a society that gives so many Negroes the nagging sense of "nobody-ness." Just as one condemns the philosophy, which I did constantly, one must be as vigorous in condemning the continued existence in our society of the conditions of racist injustice, depression, and man's inhumanity to man.
The ghastly nightmare of
violence and counter-violence is one of the most tragic blots to
occur on the pages of the Negro's history in this country. In many
ways, however, it is typical of the misplacement of aggressions
which has occurred throughout the frustrated circumstances of our
How often have the frustrations
of second-class citizenship and humiliating status led us into blind
outrage against each other and the real cause and course of our
dilemma been ignored? It is sadly ironic that those who so clearly
pointed to the white world as the seed of evil should now spend
their energies in their own destruction.
Malcolm X came to the fore as a public figure partially as a result of a TV documentary entitled "The Hate That Hate Produced." That title points clearly to the nature of Malcolm's life and death. He was clearly a product of the hate and violence invested in the Negro's blighted existence in this nation. He, like so many of our number, was a victim of the despair that inevitably derives from the conditions of oppression, poverty, and injustice which engulf the masses of our race. But in his youth, there was no hope, no preaching, teaching, or movements of nonviolence. He was too young for the Garvey Movement, too poor to be a Communist-for the Communists geared their work to Negro intellectuals and labor without realizing that the masses of Negroes were unrelated to either-and yet he possessed a native intelligence and drive which demanded an outlet and means of expression. He turned first to the underworld, but this did not fulfill the quest for meaning which grips young minds. It was a testimony to Malcolm's personal depth and integrity that he could not become an underworld czar, but turned again and again to religion for meaning and destiny. Malcolm was still turning and growing at the time of his brutal and meaningless assassination.
I was in
jail when he was in Selma, Alabama. I couldn't block his coming,
but my philosophy was so antithetical to the philosophy Malcolm
X that I would never have invited Malcolm X to
come Selma when we were in the midst
of a nonviolent demonstration. This says nothing about the personal
respect I had for him.
I think there is a lesson
that we can all learn from this: that violence is impractical and
that now, more than ever before, we must pursue the course of nonviolence
to achieve a reign of justice and a rule of love in our society,
and that hatred and violence must be cast into the unending limbo
if we are to survive.
In a real sense, the growth of black nationalism was symptomatic of the deeper unrest, discontent, and frustration of many Negroes because of the continued existence of racial discrimination. Black nationalism was a way out of that dilemma. It was based on an unrealistic and sectional perspective that I condemned both publicly and privately. It substituted the tyranny of black supremacy for the tyranny of white supremacy. I always contended that we as a race must not seek to rise from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, but to create a moral balance in society where democracy and brotherhood would be a reality for all men.
The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.