Too Many Martins, Not Enough Malcolms

Why were so many people drawn to the words that this man preached?

Or better put, how could any reasoned person not be drawn to what he had to say?

“By any means necessary.” Who could ever forget those fiery words spoken by the late Minister Malcolm X. With a clenched fist and chiseled scowl adorning nearly every picture of the man, it’s no wonder so many remember him still as nothing more than an angry advocate for violence. A man who after being assassinated, many felt, had reaped what he had sowed.

To humanity’s benefit, I believe he was far from being that distorted image. Matter of fact, even the quote above (the one most attributed to Malcolm) is distorted. What’s left out of his “demand” for justice and equality in “By any means necessary” is the trailing (and most pertinent) line “…as long as it is intelligently directed and designed to get results.” Kind of raises the stature of the quote doesn’t it? And (for me anyway) the stature of the man. From someone perceived as a tit for tat fanatic, to someone who (despite our nation’s blatant racism) still preached a reasoned response.

As we again prepare to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a holiday next month, I find myself asking whose message was, not only the more “reasoned,” but (from a historical standpoint) the more effective. King’s or Malcolm’s?

Remembering past squabbles over “who” made the civil rights gains in this country more possible; the reverend King (and others) through protest, or President Johnson, through legislation; many forget that there was Malcolm (and many who thought like him) waiting in the wings. Even President Kennedy himself, in 1963, had told a group of reporters that “if the United States didn’t hurry and get the segregation bars down, all the blacks in America would soon be following Malcolm X.”

President Kennedy had good reason to think this way, with Malcolm spouting this gem of a line when describing his religions “philosophy.”

“Islam teaches us never to attack, never to be the aggressor–but you can waste someone if he attacks you.”

Contrast that to King, who adhered to Christianity’s “turning the other cheek” and what did you have? One damn powerful combination, I’d say.

King’s non-violent actions were like a good boxers jab. They were getting some serious attention to what was going on in this country. And in that way they were galvanizing public support for some much needed change.

But a good jab, without the overhand right (Malcolm), is like a gun without bullets. It might get someone’s attention, but it ain’t going to stop them if it don’t.

It’s hard for me to find fault with either of the men who sacrificed their lives for justice. So in that sense, I know there can never be too many Martins. And yet, I wouldn’t mind if there were just a few more Malcolms.

Marty Zupan is a a foundry worker from Seattle. He can be reached at Read other articles by Marty.