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The Civil Rights Movement and Contribution of Malcolm X

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The Civil Rights Movement was a massive social grouping of the black American citizens and the white activists that supported them in the fight against racial discrimination in the 1950s – 1960s and beyond (Wilson, 2013). In the southern region of the United States, a century of slavery and decades of segregation created a legal and political system, which was characterized by the domination of the whites. They expected from the blacks-only their obedience, and resistance from the black population was unthinkable. Many white southerners believed that blacks accepted the role of second-class citizens, and they even liked it. In 1954, the US Supreme Court examined the case of “Brown vs. Board of Education,” which stated that segregation of schools stamped black children with the “stigma of inferiority” and that the authorities of the southern states should have created unified schools for the whites and the blacks as soon as possible (Sitkoff, 2008). However, southern politicians opposed this decision. “Citizens’ Counsels” were created, these were the groups that subjected to economic sanctions representatives of any race who dared to advocate such an integration (Sitkoff, 2008). The purpose of the paper is to research two decades of the Civil Rights Movement and to analyze its leader.

Comparison of two decades of the Civil Rights Movement

In segregation, blacks were not allowed to participate in the elections by various means used by the whites. There was legislation (the Jim Crow laws), according to which the blacks could not study at schools and universities together with white people, and they had their own educational system; moreover, they had to take a specially designated place for them in the public transport and so on (Sitkoff, 2008). Many shops, restaurants, and hotels refused to provide services to blacks. People of color always addressed the whites as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” (Sitkoff, 2008). The problem of the African-American population takes its roots in the middle of the 19th century when slavery was abolished in the United States. Legislating this situation, the US government did not make any practical steps. Since its beginning in the mid- 20th century, the technological revolution hit primarily on the most vulnerable segments of the population, among whom there were also African Americans. In turn, this led to a strengthening of the process of struggle for the rights of the black.

In 1954, the US Supreme Court made a historic decision: state laws for division training were deemed unconstitutional (Tsesis, 2008). However, President Eisenhower believed that the racial problem could not be solved by law as there had to be gradual changes in traditions, culture, and psychology. Supporters of the segregation gathered force, created the Councils of white citizens. They threatened to boycott desegregated institutions, calling for civil disobedience, preparing for a confrontation with the federal authorities. Extensive automation, adapting the nature of the demand for labor that necessitated its radical redistribution led to the so-called technological unemployment, as well as there were a number of other consequences that seriously affected the situation of the most disadvantaged sections of the population, primarily the African-Americans.

Strikes began in the afflicted communities, during which Martin Luther King became an icon of the civil rights movement. The promotion of non-violent struggle in the US by non-violent actions, speeches, boycotts, slogans were those peaceful actions opposite to the terrorist and legal ways that helped the movement to acquire a mass character and prevent civil war in the country.

In the late 1960s, there were cases of armed resistance and riots (Tsesis, 2008). The latter happened in black ghettos. During the ghetto riots (“black riots”), the US Communists demonstrated loyalty to their principled position on the Negro question (Sitkoff, 2008). They provided effective assistance to the population of the black ghetto, organizing campaigns to provide the rebels with food and basic necessities.

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Events of this decade triggered a sympathetic response in the broad democratic strata of the American people and the world community. At the same time, it is impossible not to see that the “black riots” of the 1960s, which especially advanced the slogan of many radical organizations: “Black Power!”, made a large part of the white population occupy an intermediate, often vacillating position between the racists and their opponents, in the camp of the supporters of racial segregation (Sitkoff, 2008).

Two decades of the Civil Rights Movement showed the beginning and the peak of resistance. It demonstrated both peaceful and non-peaceful means: liberal and radical ones. Thus, along with the civilian way to combat segregation used by Martin Luther King in the 1960s, there emerged the extremist movement called “Black Muslims” (Tsesis, 2008). Dissatisfaction with the result of civil resistance prompted the members of that movement to stand for more active forms of their protest. “Black Muslims” have not been a scattered force and had a permanent leader (Tsesis, 2008). At its core, this movement was organizational in nature and brought together a large number of people. Thus, the fight of the African Americans for their rights in the 1960s was not homogeneous. It was both organized and spontaneous. Spontaneous forms of protest were riots in black ghettos in the 1960s. The organizational methods of the struggle of the black in the period under review can be divided into two major areas: peaceful (Martin Luther King) and extremist (“Black Muslims”).

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By the early 1970s, the tendency for extreme forms of Black Nationalism gradually weakened. The number of supporters of radical leaders and nationalist organizations decreased (Sitkoff, 2008). There was a soberer understanding of the place of movement of black Americans in the common struggle of the democratic forces, a more realistic assessment of problems that the black-faced and the ways to solve them.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was the African-American Islamic spiritual leader and fighter for human rights. Among his supporters, Malcolm X is known as a defender of the black population of the United States, a sharp critic of the Americans of European origin, who were according to him, guilty in crimes against the blacks. X’s opponents accused him of the support for racism and violence. X has been recognized as one of the most influential African Americans in history (Marable, 2011).

Malcolm X is believed to be one of the greatest and most powerful African Americans ever (Marable, 2011). He is associated with raising the level of African Americans’ self-identity and the establishment of their links with the African heritage (Marable, 2011). X became one of the preachers of Islam in the black community of the United States. According to many black Americans, especially the inhabitants of the northern and western states, X was able to formulate their aspirations better than any one of the known representatives of the civil rights movement of African Americans.

At the end of the sixties of the 20th century more and more radical black activists have often relied on the identity of X and his teachings in their activities. The formation of the “Black power” and the Black Arts Movement was largely inspired by the activities of Malcolm X. The roots of the popular slogan “Black is beautiful” go back to his personality (X & Haley, 1999).

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In prison, Malcolm converted to Islam and changed his original name, calling himself Malcolm X (Malcolm Unknown) (X & Haley, 1999). In 1961, he joined the movement of “Black Muslims” and soon became one of its leaders. “Black Muslims” were in favor of the principle of self-settlement of African Americans in the United States. In other words, it was about ethnic reservations, like the American Indians (X & Haley, 1999). Soon Malcolm X was disappointed in his choice; he accused the “Black Muslims” in collusion with the Ku Klux Klan and the promotion of racial unrest (X & Haley, 1999).

X was often accused of hate speeches, but he did not agree on these views. The ideologist of the “Panther” said he was only trying to explain to his listeners what white America did to them, in the hope that the understanding of that situation would release at the powerless people a lot of energy – both positive and negative – that could then be directed to a constructive purpose (X, 1963). The mistake would be to try to organize the sleeping population; he said that it was necessary to wake them first, and then it would work effectively (X & Haley, 1999). In fact, X worked with a guilt complex, which occurs in victims of violence. Shock therapy was an integral part of his method.

During his trip to Africa, Malcolm X spoke about American blacks. He was politely but firmly corrected, “We do not like that word (nigger), Mr. X, as “African American” sounds more dignified, and it makes more sense” (X & Haley, 1999). From that moment on, Malcolm stopped using the word “nigger”, since he understood from the brief reprimand that it was a racist term. There are people of different nationalities, genotypes, cultures, and religions, and grouping them according to some features of appearance is illogical.

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Malcolm X did a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca in 1964 as the confirmation of being a devout Muslim. That led to the final X’s transition from a position of Black Nationalism to African-American internationalism – at the same time, however, he did not renounce the idea of armed resistance.

The first of these two main aspects of Malcolm X’s philosophy was racially religious, the second was cultural and political. According to Malcolm X, in Mecca, he realized that he was a true supporter of Islam: “America needs to understand what the real Islam is. Islam is opposed to racism, as people of all colors and all races worship one God … thereby accept each other as brothers and sisters. Islam etches “white” from the minds of white people. If white Americans accept one God, they perhaps would have accepted any person and no longer hurt and annoy others because of differences in skin color” (X, 1963). “In Mecca, I have seen people with blond hair and blue eyes, but when they call themselves white, they describe a particular secondary quality. But here in America, when a person says that he is white, he means something else. It is audible in his voice. When he says that he is white, he makes it clear that he is the chief” (X, 1963).

Back in America, X formed the “Organization of Afro-American Unity” in March 1964, which aimed at “struggling for the full independence of people of African blood” in the Western Hemisphere, and primarily in the United States, Malcolm was able to win over a quarter of a million former supporters of the “Black Muslims” (X & Haley, 1999). As a result, relations between the two groups deteriorated sharply.

The reason for the break with the “Islamic nation” induced Malcolm’s growing popularity and numerous speeches. He thought that assassination of Kennedy was retribution for the horrors of slavery. However, in order not to incur the resentment of the white majority, the “Islamic nation” agreed to remove X from the organization for three months.

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After the murder of Malcolm X, from the military wing of the movement “Black Muslims” the party of self-defense, “Black Panther” singled out (Sitkoff, 2008). It was founded in October 1966 in Oakland, California, to counter the police lawlessness in the black ghetto (Sitkoff, 2008). Two years later, the party entered the arena of American radical politics (Sitkoff, 2008). Therefore, Malcolm X changed the outlook of African Americans in the US. He marked the beginning of active resistance and his philosophy is remaining active even nowadays.


In sum, in twelve years of nonviolent struggle for civil rights, the movement had achieved cessation of racial discrimination in various fields. It prompted black Americans such feelings as self-esteem, pride, and confidence in their abilities, which helped to achieve mutual understanding between white and black US citizens.

In 1956, the supporter of passive resistance, Martin Luther King became the leading figure of the black movement. Passive resistance was converted into the main weapon of the struggle for civil rights provision. The second decade was characterized by riots and more active hostilities. Armed protests in the black ghettos showed the US government that race relations in the country began to go beyond the control of the authorities. The “black riots” showed a real threat to the existing order. That forced the administration to change strategy concerning the blacks. In general, the reaction of the US government, federal and local, on the rise of the Negro movement and riots in the ghetto developed along two main lines – through the tightening of repression using the whole arsenal of suppression resources and through partial temporary concessions, the formal recognition of the black basic rights and freedoms. Malcolm X did not become a true political leader, but his books had a profound effect on African-American culture.

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