At the same time that Martin Luther King was using the gospel of social justice to create a Christian coalition, a dynamic and charismatic minister in the North was using that same gospel to condemn what he called "the hypocrisy of Christianity." Malcolm X's efforts led to an explosion of membership in the Nation of Islam, and ultimately cracked the Christian consensus within the African-American community.
William Gadsden attacked by K-9 units in Birmingham, AL. This was the kind of violence Malcolm X railed against.
Malcolm advocated black unity instead of church community, self-defense instead of nonviolence, and self-love in lieu of turning the other cheek.
"The Christian world usually is what we call the Western world," he said to one Chicago audience. "The exploitation, colonization of the dark nations or... lands was done by nations that today are known as Christian powers.
"Christians made slaves here in America out of twenty million black people who today are called second-class citizens… The people in Africa…today…are trying to get free from countries who represented themselves to the Africans as Christian nations. Wherever you find dark people or non-white people today…trying to get freedom, they are trying to get freedom from the people who represent themselves as Christians; and if you go to them and ask them their picture of a Christian, they'll tell you 'an exploiter, a slave master.' In America the definition would be one who promises you equal rights for a hundred years and never gives it to you."
Malcolm used this critique to draw Christians away from their churches and into the temples of the Nation of Islam; but its ramifications went far beyond Nation of Islam membership.
Malcolm's rejection of Christianity was conditioned by the religion as he experienced it and by the contradiction between what whites taught about Christianity and the role it played in the oppression of black people. He said he thought it was disgraceful for women to be dragged into paddy wagons and children to be bitten by dogs, and subjected to the power of the water hoses.
Rev. Prathia Hall attended a meeting of SNCC workers with Malcolm in 1965. "His sharp critique of the movement forced persons within the movement to examine their actions and their behavior," she remembered. "He expressed what most black people were feeling."
His words ignited embers of righteous anger that burst into flame in the years after his assassination. Juxtaposed with Martin Luther King, he presented a choice between moral persuasion and militant aggression that played out through the decade.