Since my adolescent years, I have undergone persistent criticism over my obvious stronger affinity towards Dr. King than towards Minister Malcolm. Those intermittent attacks upon my intelligence and character, I deemed to derive from impassioned ignorance more than anything else. Sadly, the supporters of Malcolm were most often completely bereft of knowledge about King, save for the ubiquitous “I Have a Dream” mantra that media brokers, political pundits, civic leaders, and the hoi polloi could barely stomach. No one seemed to want to hear about the nonviolent warrior who fought against avariciousness and rugged individualism, jumboism, ghettoization, unsafe working conditions, underemployment, the military draft, escalation of the war in Vietnam, and poverty, in addition to racism. King was no pipe dreamer, as many would claim made the Nobel Peace Prize recondite; rather, King was an enlightened patriot and internationalist who ardently sought after the beloved community.
The above notwithstanding, I want to clear up a few things that have been in discussions of Malcolm and Martin since the mid-1960s. The point of contention centers around what would have happened if they ever met. This question is not a moot point, for it is and should be a matter of the historical record. Herein, I make it plain.
King and X met publicly in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 1964. The occasion was to listen in on a congressional debate over the Civil Rights Bill. Many claim that this encounter was the only time the two have set eyes upon each other and physically shook hands. This point of view is highly suspect, for many go on to say that this meeting was the only time they communicated with each other in their entire lives. Such is simply not the case!
Malcolm and Martin communicated with each other as early as the late 1950’s. In this regard, many scholars attest that they never spoke on the phone or wrote a letter and sent it to each other ever. Clearly, assertions like these are completely untrue. Malcolm and Martin did speak on the phone more than once, and correspondence between the two took place with and without an intervening person. A number of these interactions occurred prior to the beginning of extensive wire tapping of both parties. Consequently, there are no records of how they interfaced prior to the middle of the Kennedy administration.
Both men were warm and personable individuals. Although Malcolm was wolnt openly to criticize King during public addresses, whereas King always refused to do so, they clearly had immense respect for each other. After Malcolm left the nation of Islam, he was ever more amenable to reaching out to his non violent brother. As a matter of fact, Malcolm himself was primarily non violent in private, while in the political arena he shouted invective about self defense and confrontation that kept the media spinning scary tales of proposed violence against whites and against law enforcement officers. And the beat of lies drums on!
During the early stages of the Selma campaign Malcolm chatted with Coretta more than once, and left messages for Martin with her. The ease with which Malcolm and Coretta spoke reveals an intimacy between her husband and Malcolm that could only have been developed through direct contact. It is in shame that we cannot fully recover dates, times, and locations of these exchanges!
What must be stated herein is the stark reality of their lives. They were both assassinated during the very prime of their lives. We will never know nor should we ever speculate, what would have happened had they lived. However, it is clear that the divide that separated their rhetoric was appreciably closing as the battle for full human rights continued to be waged.
In my opinion, it is incumbent upon us to continue that struggle until victory is won!