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Essay: MLK and Malcolm X in Civil Rights Movement: Impact of Christ, Hitler and JFK

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Words: 1,319 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 6 (approx)
  • Tags: Martin Luther King Essays

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Source 1 –

In this letter written by King in prison in 1962, he is defending himself to a group of clergymen who have described him as a political extremist. King is defending himself against their “criticism”, which after some thought he seems to find the label complimentary. MLK explains that not all “extremists” are bad – that individuals such as Jesus were extremists for “love, truth and goodness”. Kings mention of Jesus in this source is particularly powerful as he is writing to a group of clergymen and this mention of Jesus argues his point in a way that is shocking enough to change their perspective of him. Along with the mention of Adolf Hitler, King is shocking his reader by using such contrasting individuals. He is explaining that although Hitler’s actions were legal, they were unjust – similarly to how segregation and racism were legal in 1962 but were morally unjust.  King is taking the opportunity to state what truly motivates him in his involvement of the movement – fighting for civil rights using Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) which we know is true from demonstrations such as the March on Washington 1963 and the Birmingham Campaign in 1963, where NVDA was used to protest against racism which inspired JFK to drive the Civil Rights Bill through congress.

This demonstrates how the impact of King helped to develop the movement as his perseverance in the movement led to the Civil Rights Bill, making the source valuable when studying the movement.

 Link to value here. A limitation of the source is that it doesn’t discuss any of the problems MLK and the movement faced with NVDA such as the Albany movement in 1961, which failed to desegregate public places in Georgia. Authorities decided not to react to the movement, and due to the lack of media attention, the movement failed, and leaders returned home – the opposite of the Birmingham Campaign. In summary, this source is valuable in explaining the involvement of MLK in the civil rights movement as it is a brutally honest response to critics, explaining the reasons behind his actions with regards to NVDA in attempt to change the unjust laws within constitution. Although the letter is emotionally charged, and King is trying to defend his position, he does this in a way which clearly explains his actions and the reasons why he does them – to reverse unjust laws and remove the “false sense of superiority” that segregation gives the segregator.


By comparing violence within the civil rights movement to other minority groups such as Jews and Poles, X is validating the use of violence, and why it is okay for it to be used by African Americans in some cases X rationalises the use of violence as Kings non violence fails.

In this source, Malcolm X explains his new perspective on the movement after his pilgrimage to Mecca. He outlines his views towards whites, policy on violence and his aims.

After X’s spiritual journey in Mecca, his viewpoint on white people changed. He came to the conclusion that there are “well meaning, good white people” and that not all are racists, but that he is continuing his fight against white racists. He subtly criticises MLK within this source, by talking about how he is for violence because non violence postpones the solution to segregation. X believes that violence is necessary in some situations, as non violence can fail and lead to a delayed solution, such as in Mississippi in 1964, when three nonviolent civil rights workers were killed by a white Ku Klux Klan members and a local policeman.

The extract clearly conveys X’s change in perspective after his conversion to Islam, and how he no longer believes the generalisation that all whites are racist. The kindness and generosity he had experienced from white Muslims had caused this change in X.

The audience X is delivering this speech to is his loyal friends and supporters and delivering a message which would be hard for them to hear, being used to his hardline, pro violence strategy which they agreed with. He conveys his message in a laid back, to the point tone to clearly convey his views. This would not have been an easy message for X to deliver, yet he did anyway – so he genuinely believed in this view although he knew the controversial change in his view could have difficult consequences. This adds to the sources value as it proves the honesty of his message, he truly believes in his view.

However, a possible limitation of this source is that it was published a few months before he was assassinated in February 1965, so the message he was sending, and the change of perspective and actions were short lived – he never really had the chance to demonstrate it. The source also doesn’t give a full insight into his views and impact he had. Prior to his pilgrimage to Mecca, he was a hard line, anti white and believed in violence when necessary, such as in cases of self defence and riots when their peaceful tactics are ignored. This makes the source slightly less valuable, as prior knowledge of X’s involvement in the development is needed to understand the message X is making.

In this speech to congress, Kennedy is talking about the need for a civil rights bill because although “slavery has vanished, progress for the Negro has been too often blocked and delayed”. Racism is “contradicting at home the message we preach abroad” – segregation is withholding freedom from African Americans, but in Vietnam US soldiers are fighting communists from taking away the freedom of the South Vietnamese. Kennedy sees the hypocrisy of the way African Americans are treated at home and recognises the need for change.

The source is a speech to congress, so is addressing the issue of civil rights from a political perspective – which is appropriate to Kennedys intended audience. In the speech Kennedy would have had to be cautious on the emotional side of his message, as southern congressmen were not open minded to the civil rights bill, but Kennedys language choices convey the need for change in a way that clearly communicates the reasons for the need for the bill, but in a way that would persuade congressmen as he is explaining the economic and political impacts of segregation. The audience Kennedy is addressing slightly decreases the value, as he is telling congress his views in a way that will make sure he doesn’t lose the Southern support and is explaining the effects of the movement on factors which will interest them – such as economic and political matters, not the devastating emotional impact of segregation on African Americans. Kennedy’s obvious caution he uses when delivers the address makes the source less valuable, as it is clear that Kennedy will sugar-coat the truth to congress to secure his own power and role in government.

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Kennedy talks about how discrimination had “hampered economic growth” and “increased the cost of public welfare” – this hints that Kennedy’s true reasoning for drafting the civil rights bill wasn’t just because he cared for the wellbeing of African Americans but because segregation is having a negative effect on US economy. This is backed up by the fact that Kennedy was discouraged by his fear of losing support from Southern senators and politicians to create the civil rights bill. Kennedy has been known as someone who changed his perspective on the movement depending on who he was talking to – when talking to Southern congressmen he would often use racial slurs but when giving speeches to members of the movement, he would not.

This makes the source slightly less valuble, as Kennedy seems more concerned with keeping the Southern vote than telling Southern senators that their segregation policies are morally wrong, not just harmful to government and the economy.

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