MLK vs. Malcom X

To start 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., turned his direction to the ongoing voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama.  Meanwhile, in New York, Malcolm X preached a message of black nationalism and empowerment to his growing cadre of followers.  On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated, just two days before a scheduled meeting with MLK to explore collaborative possibilities between them.

But what If February 21, 1965, had gone differently?  What if instead the two men had met again?

Students in Dr. Balcerski’s HIS 322: African American History from 1877 took up the challenge and debated amongst themselves from the point of view of these famous black leaders.  The debate questions were as follows:

  1. It’s February 23, 1965, and some say that the Civil Rights movement has achieved all that it can.  Why should we follow your movement going forward?  What will you achieve in the next 5 years for African Americans?
  2. What does your opponent get wrong about non-violence and/or the use of force in the struggle for Civil Rights?  Be specific.
  3. Fifty or so years from now, say the year 2017, what will be the plight of African Americans?  What can we expect politically, socially, and culturally as the result of your movement?

As with the first class debate, the students divided into two larger groups—either MLK or Malcolm X—and each side worked in smaller groups to prepare key points of supporting evidence.  From these smaller teams, three spokespersons were chosen to participate in the debate, with each person permitted one minute for a statement and thirty seconds for rebuttal.  Professor Balcerski scored the debate.  Each side offered compelling answers, so much that Professor Balcerski judged the debate to be a tie.

Following the debate, the class further discussed the points made and offered their thoughts on potential areas in which the two sides could have worked together.  Perhaps, as both the students in HIS 322 and scholars of the Civil Rights Movement have suggested, creative conflict among African American leaders has been a positive force in the progress of the African-American odyssey in the United States.