Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Differences and Similarities

MLK and Malcolm X boulevard signs

Many people question the difference between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., but what do the differences really mean? What are their differing ideologies and do they have shared goals. We’ll dive into these questions and more in the article below.

Are Their Goals Shared?

Here are some of the main differences between these two iconic leaders. In addition to being the only African-American leader to be Muslim, Malcolm X was the first black minister to work for the United Nations. He was a member of the black nationalist Nation of Islam and fought for the rights of blacks, starting a revolution against white supremacists. He was willing to fight oppression using “any means necessary”, including violence. However, he was also a Muslim and his upbringing had left him vulnerable to racism. In addition, he had experienced plenty of trouble in his youth, which made him unable to work well with white leaders and sway the white majority.

civil rights mural










Two Ways to Civil Rights

The differences between these two men are more superficial than important. While King and Malcolm were both black leaders, they were not the same type of activist. Both men worked towards the same goal, civil rights, and pan-Africanism. Both men worked to change the image and position of black people and to promote education. In fact, both men married educated women.

The two men had different backgrounds and lifestyles. King was the son of politically active preacher fathers, while King was from a middle class Georgia home. King’s father, a NAACP organizer, had been a civil rights leader. King also attributed his successful non-violent activism to his loving environment growing up. Although they were not necessarily the same, their similarities are significant.

The two men’s views on race were clear during the civil rights movement but their methods were somewhat clashing. They often advocated for integration, Malcolm X was more aggressive in pursuing self-advancement and cultural identity. In contrast to King, X advocated for black pride and self-defence. King applied a pacifistic style and non-violent methods in addition to legal, and peaceful protests to showcase how civil rights can be advanced in a different way.


There are differences such as education and upbringing that shaped these men. Dr. King benefited from a university education while Malcolm X had had a high school education. The similarities and differences between them go far beyond their individual actions.


One major difference between the two leaders is the religious background. Dr. King had a Christian background and had a role as a minister while Malcolm was a part of the Nation of Islam – a black nationalist movement founded in Detroit. While both were committed to the principles of equality and justice, the religious differences between them prevented them from working together. But their visions for black people and the future of the United States were similar, and they both gained massive support locally and internationally. Their level of support threatened the government of the day.

Being born into an impoverished working class family, Malcolm was influenced by Marcus Garvey’s theories and joined the Nation of Islam. He later became a minister under Elijah Muhammad, a NOI leader. He later abandoned his “slave name” and became a prominent leader. During the 1950s, Malcolm became a spokesman for the organization.

King enrolled in a seminary college pursuing a life as a Christian Minister. He was inspired to do his non violent resistance against inequality laws through Christianity and Gandhi.

Civil Rights Justice

While both leaders were great statesmen and had similar ideas, their approaches were very different. While King focused on equality and eradicating prejudice, Malcolm X sought justice through violence. Malcolm X believed that blacks could only attain their rightful place in society by force. Despite their differences, they both believed that racial injustice is bad and should be dealt with. However, the differences are not as significant as they might seem.

While MLK “had a dream” that integrationism can coexist between black and white Americans, Malcolm X did not think it worthwhile and sought to achieve justice through violence. Elijah Muhammad was a big inspiration to Malcolm X and in particular to the case of segregation, labelling the separation as a “means that which is forced upon inferiors by superiors.”

Both men believed in justice for Black Americans but they went about achieving their outcome in radically different ways.


While King was a Christian, X was a member of the Nation of Islam and eventually became its chief spokesperson. His influence on the black community was immense. Ultimately, these two leaders were unable to achieve total equal rights in America, and neither could be said to be more important in the struggle for equality for black people. However their impact on racial justice changed western society all over the world even to the present day.