In the 1950s and 60s, African Americans could choose between two radically different strategies for obtaining their civil rights: the Christian-oriented, non-violent tactics advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Muslim-based, separatist approach promoted by Malcolm X. King sought integration -- of buses, lunch counters, and society as a whole -- achieved through non-violent action, and he stressed the need to remain peaceful even when confronted by white attacks. In a sermon in 1965, he preached this message:
We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.
King did not consider such non-violence to be either passive or weak, "I think of love as something strong, and that organizes itself into powerful direct action."
Malcolm X, by contrast, thought it absurd to seek integration through love with his white oppressors. He sought to create a separate, economically self-sufficient and racially proud nation of blacks within America. Malcolm X expressed it this way:
The black man should have a hand in controlling the economy of the so-called Negro community, he should be developing the type of knowledge that will enable him to own and operate the businesses and thereby be able to create employment for his own people, for his own kind.
Discussing non-violence, Malcolm X said, [don't mistake black Muslims] "for those Negroes who believe in non-violence," [if you] "put your hands on us thinking that we're going to turn the other cheek -- we'll put you to death just like that."
If you were seeking a leader to help you secure your civil rights in the 1950s and 60s, who would you stand with?