What's Missing: Dichotomization and Misconceptions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X

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Virginia Tech

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are two of the most famous African-American activists in American history. The purpose of this study is to analyze the similarities and differences between how King and X approached and conceptualized questions of violence, politics, and religion, while challenging the simple dichotomization of their thought and work as they pertained to these themes. Pointing out flaws in how they have been commonly remembered in American history, this qualitative study thematically analyzes King's and X's autobiographies and a selection of their speeches, placing them in a conversation with one another. This research thereby unravels some prevailing misconceptions about King and X, such as the idea that King defended an exclusively non-violent approach to social change and that he aimed, merely, at the inclusion of Black Americans into US society, while X was his direct opposite. This research is important because the flawed narratives commonly repeated about King and X, I contend, has created an artificial and simplified division in Black politics, weakening its analytical and political power. A recognition of how King and X have more in common can strengthen Black politics by centering the diverse traditions of Black radical thought and organizing that, nonetheless, all aligned in their struggle for Black people's freedom and equality.

African-American Research