On Monday, our nation will honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. But many argue Malcolm X was just as influential on civil rights and should be celebrated as well.
Both men based their ideologies on religion. King, a Baptist minister, leaned heavily on the teachings of Jesus. His movement, characterized by nonviolence, consistently preached loving your enemies and turning the other cheek. Malcolm X took a more radical approach. While in prison, he joined the Nation of Islam, an extremist faction of Islam. He later became an Islamic minister and promoted separatism between blacks and whites.
Both men, murdered in the 1960s, saw unfair treatment of African Americans as a human-rights violation. King pointed to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as evidence the Founding Fathers intended all Americans "be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." King insisted his nonviolent approach would call attention to the injustices against blacks and had faith that the nation eventually would honor the Founders' wishes.
Malcolm X maintained America was beyond repair. He often spoke of judgment and destruction coming upon the country. He discouraged blacks from viewing themselves as U.S. citizens, instead promoting separation of the races through migration of blacks to Africa or to a territory within the Western Hemisphere. He wanted justice and equality for all, but he intended to bring it about "by any means necessary."
Trying to grasp why these two men took such different paths is futile. Both were exposed to racism from childhood. King's ability to maintain humility and meekness in the face of similar circumstances can perhaps be attributed to his deep faith.
Some say Malcolm X is unfairly characterized as a radical. I disagree. It is true he made changes toward the end of his life. After his pilgrimage to Mecca and the exposure of corruption in the Nation of Islam, he embraced true Islam and backtracked on some of his rhetoric. But his legacy already had been written. Furthermore, his hostile approach did damage that could not be erased by a few speeches. History forever will remember Malcolm X for his hostile and divisive rhetoric -- and rightly so.
America honors King not only for his contributions to civil rights but also for his dedication to our founding principles and values. King devoted his life not simply to a cause for black people, but also to a dream for a better America.
Corey J. Hodges is pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.