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Militantism and Social JusticeWas Malcolm X's use of evocative and extremist rhetoric an effective tool in the success of the civil rights movement?

Issue Background

Malcolm X is frequently cited as one of the leading figures of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. He largely serves as a foil to the non-violent figure of Martin Luther King Jr. because of Malcolm's extremist views on the inherent racism of white people and calls for separation from white society. Malcolm's example ultimately led to movements such as The Black Panthers and other more confrontational civil rights groups. In Manning Marable's new biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, he examines the formation of Malcolm's message and why and to whom it appealed.

Key Arguments

» Yes

  • While MLK's non-violent protests was an effective tool for gaining media attention and ultimately political victories, Malcolm's message of fighting for your rights empowered a generation of otherwise disenfranchised individuals.
  • Malcolm's message spoke more directly to urban poor black communities whose experience with racism was drastically different than the southern communities who were represented by the MLK movement.

» No

  • Malcolm X did not seek to work within the political system which in the end meant that the disenfranchised population that he represented were never awarded the recognition or protection that they sought.
  • Violent speech does not have a place in the fight for rights in a society ruled by laws. Malcolm X's rhetoric may have caused more distrust between the black population seeking their rights and the white population who wanted to avoid instability.


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