Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were the indispensable figures of the 1960s black freedom movement. These two towering leaders inspired and perhaps determined the outlook and nature of the civil rights upheaval as well as the black power crusade. Though their approach to attaining freedom for African Americans, society, and policy worked synergistically their life events landed them at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to reading and interpreting.
As children Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had the support of their loving families; Martin, in a family of five and Malcolm in a family of nine. With fathers who were significant parts of their communities the two boys had mentors early in life. However, Martin was much more favorably blessed than Malcolm. While Martin was attending spiritual teachings and learning how to play the piano, Malcolm’s family was being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan. They were forced to move twice before Malcolm reached the age of 4; this trend continued when Malcolm’s family fled again after their house was firebombed by the Black Legion, a white supremacist group. Unfortunately, three of Malcolm's uncles were killed by the hand of white supremacist groups, before his father died in a suspicious bus accident. These tragedies severely scarred Malcolm and tactlessly led his mental state in the fight against the white population. He looked at his personal experiences as an opportunity to revolutionize himself. Martin was therefore able to see his own side of the racial mountain. Believing in the “goodness of man and the natural power of human reason,” (1) he was able to open his mind and evaluate segregation as a whole. This gave him a standpoint much different than that of Malcolm; racial discrimination affected not just the blacks, but the whites as well. The childhoods of both men molded, and in some way, exasperated their perspectives on segregation and other social issues.
Their outlooks continued to change throughout their lives, while successively finding unforeseen and inspirational sources to nourish their ongoing curiosities. It was in 1948 when Crozer’s Theological Seminary challenged King’s rather strict fundamentalist upbringing. This is where King found a new appreciation for objective appraisal and critical analysis, finding that all man had a “collective evil,” (1) based off of sin that was clouded by distorted rationalizations. Martin’s education continued from there. While King was continuing his traditional education a new form of schooling grew out of an angry, uneducated, incarcerated Malcolm X. Who found inspiration through his so obvious preventions while composing a letter to Elijah Muhammad; feeling completely illiterate Malcolm believed he “wasn’t even functional” (2) when it came to communication. He found that he needed to pursue a self-based education which began in the Norfolk Prison Colony Library. Starting with a dictionary he clung tightly to every word, phrase, and idea he recited. He became enraged when he realized that the blacks had been “whitewashed” (2) from the history pages. He even went as far as to deduce that the whites were created from the black due to the white chromosome being recessive (2). Both men benefitted differently from their schoolings, continuously progressing at a great rate, nonetheless, these highly influential figures still ended up walking different spiritual paths.
Many factors went into determining Martin and Malcolm’s spiritual differences, though one important factor had a huge effect on their entire outlook; their mentors. Martin’s: Mahatma Gandhi- who was said to be the father of the Indian independence movement, creating the concept of satyagraha a nonviolent way of protesting injustice (1). The impact of Gandhi's teaching affected Martin’s life considerably, and he carried Gandhi's message with him back to America. In contrast, Malcolm’s mentor Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of