Comparing the Similarities and Differences Between Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca

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Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were both great leaders in the civil rights movement. However, they both had different ideas on how civil rights should be achieved, but they did share the same desire to help improve African American lives. In this paper I will compare and contrast MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Malcolm X’s “Letter from Mecca”. In doing so I can relate current issues to today’s society that may be similar or different to segregation that MLK and Malcolm X talk about in their letters. I will also relate Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Gandhi’s views on nonviolence and resistance to support my arguments. This will help me conclude whether or not it would be justified for these two men to use violence to achieve their goals of equal treatment.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Malcolm X’s “Letter from Mecca” can be compared in the fact that they both have a religious approach. They both believed that religion could be a tool to help people come together and solve the issue of injustice. MLK states in his letter, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God…” In other words, humanity cannot grow on predictability; it happens through determination to work with God. This can compare to Malcolm X’s statement in his letter, “…if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man…”It is obvious that religion is an ideal tool here to help break down the barriers of racial discrimination. Whether it be from a Christian or Muslim approach the idea and goal of unity is the same.

The letters contrast in the sense that they have different views on how Civil Rights should be achieved. MLK wanted the blacks and whites to integrate while Malcolm X wanted blacks to keep to themselves. He would rather have the blacks achieve the help they needed without any intervention from white people. There different ideals could be from the diverse life backgrounds they come from. MLK had a more peaceful non-violent approach as he states in his letter, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” He makes a great point here in saying that the use of nonviolent protest creates pressure in a community to where they can no longer ignore the issue and they are forced to deal with it.

Malcolm had a different approach in the fact that he thought nonviolence was being defenseless. He states in his letter, “With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called ‘Christian’ white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem.” He projects some sort of attitude here as he refers to the “so-called Christian whites” or the “supposed” Christians. He portrays some sort of hatred towards whites maybe because of the personal attacks that he has experienced. It was not just so-called Christians that took place in the unjust actions, but the majority of whites regardless of religion.

Taking a look at some current examples and issues happening in today’s society can help us understand the segregation that still exists today. The Dakota access pipeline is one of the major sensitive topics that we can still see segregation or separateness from the Native American tribes. I use this example because it is obvious that our country refuses to integrate with them and respect their lands and laws. In a current event on the New York Times website titled, “Tension Between Police and Standing Rock Protestors Reaches Boiling Point” Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, talks about the injustice that still exists. He states, “We need our state and federal governments to bring justice and peace to our lands, not the force of armored vehicles…” He is wanting to have a more peaceful approach to the situation that has been going on for months now. Since the Native Americans have suffered generations of broken promises I can understand how this is such an issue for them. The Natives are definitely approaching the situation as peacefully as possible to ensure that the people’s water does not get contaminated.

In another current event on the website titled Huffington Post trends reporter, Nina Golgowski, shares a video a video of a black man being arrested for apparently walking on the side of the road. She states, “I have no interest in vilifying the police, but obviously I got out of my car in the first place because I perceive the pedestrian might not get treated fairly because of his ethnicity.” This proves that there is still racial discrimination in our society when a black man cannot even walk on the side of the road without being question or presumed a criminal.

The fact that the lady got out of her car and recognized this situation shows that there are still humane people in the world that do care. This relates to MLK’s statement, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In other words if there is any sort of discrimination or inequality anywhere that threatens the justice that already exists. If we can overlook the injustice that already exists that will eventually lead to it being ignored completely. We cannot be look at ourselves as separate from those in the world or else there will be disruption.

In a current article on ABC News titled “President Obama: Discrimination Should Concern ‘All Americans,’ Violence Won’t ‘Advance the Cause” Suzan Clarke address’ the topic of nonviolence. The President stated, “…heroes of the Civil Rights movement have shown that way to achieve lasting change is to engage the broader American community in a thoughtful, disciplined and peaceful manner…” He is obviously in favor of nonviolence or a more peaceful approach in solving injustice.

There is always a right or wrong way to handle a situation depending on what angle you look at it. I think Obama statement compares to Gandhi’s “My Faith in Nonviolence” when he states, “It takes a fairly strenuous course of training to attain to a mental state of nonviolence… Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.” I think this can be appreciated in the sense that violence does not have to be used in order to achieve goals of equal treatment. It takes a very disciplined and responsible individual to use the act of nonviolence to approach a certain situation.

One last current event I found was one on the website U.S. News titled, “Study: Black Riders Get Worse Uber, Lyft Service” by economy reporter Andrew Soergel. He examines a new study that involved ride-sharing apps, Uber and Lyft, and finds obvious discrimination against African-Americans. He states that, “African-American passengers receive worse service, compared to white riders…” Apparently the Uber and Lyft drivers receive certain information before they decide to accept the passenger or not.

This is evidence of clear discrimination against blacks that is expressed in both MLK and Malcolm X’s letters. MLK states in his letter, “…when you find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you…” I think this relates to the fact of the African Americans receiving poorer service than others. It is almost like they are treated as criminals for no reason which does not make any sense because there are just as many white criminals as there are blacks.

In conclusion, I do not think that these two men would be justified in the use of violence to attain their goals of equal treatment. If that was the case it would go against all of the non- violence readings and articles that I have found. It would go against both MLK and Malcolm’s teachings. I can relate Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” to their teachings because he argues that resistance to the government in a moral way can help get the point across for unjust laws. He states, “There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power…”

In other words, there can never be a freely tolerant state until the states become aware of each individuals personal powers. These readings have helped me better understand how different MLK and Malcolm X were in their beliefs, but how they shared the same wish to help African Americans. It also helped me realize that we all have voices that need to be heard and we have the ability to nonviolently protest to get the point across that we will not accept any injustice.


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Comparing the Similarities and Differences Between Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca. (2023, Jan 04). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/comparing-the-similarities-and-differences-between-martin-luther-king-jrs-letter-from-birmingham-jail-and-malcolm-xs-letter-from-mecca/

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