When Coretta Scott King Met Malcolm X
In 1988, Coretta Scott King spoke publicly about the tensions as well as the commonalities between her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The interview was for the documentary series Eyes on the Prize II, a retrospective look at the civil rights movement which aired on PBS in 1990. In the interview, Coretta describes the one time she had met Malcolm X and what he had said to her. His words surprised Coretta, and in her account of that brief interaction, we can catch a glimpse of an alternate timeline in which Dr. King and Malcolm X came to work together in the struggle for Black liberation and civil rights.
The possibility of cooperation between the two great men was more likely than one might think. In the 1960s, Malcolm X began to reject Black nationalism and started to embrace a more expansive, international human rights focus. Meanwhile, Dr. King began to espouse increasingly critical analyses of the US war machine. By the end of their respective lives, both were able to draw the connections between war, racism, and other injustices of the world.
It is a deep tragedy that Dr. King and Malcolm X did not have the opportunity to work along with their fully matured political understandings and analyzes of strategy.
[Interviewer:] Mrs. King, can you share with us some of the points of agreement and disagreement between your husband and Malcolm X?
[Coretta Scott King:] I think that Martin and Malcolm agreed in terms of the ultimate goal of the freedom struggle, I don't think there was any difference there. I think it was basically one of strategy. My husband believed that to accomplish the goal of freedom and justice and equality, that it was necessary to use nonviolent means, particularly in a society such as ours where we were ten percent of the population. And he believed finally that nonviolence was the only alternative that oppressed people had in this kind of a society. I think Malcolm felt that people had a right to use any means necessary, even violence, to achieve the goals of their freedom. And I think that was the basic difference. Martin, I don't think, ever spoke publicly against Malcolm in any form. I think Malcolm did against Martin, unfortunately. But that was because Martin was committed to nonviolence, and nonviolence seeks not to humiliate or to depersonalize human beings but to ennoble human beings, human personality. But he never held that against him. They, I think, respected each other. Martin had the greatest respect for Malcolm and he agreed with him in terms of the feeling of racial pride and the fact that Black people should believe in themselves and see themselves as lovable and beautiful. The fact that Martin had a strong feeling of connectedness to Africa and so did Malcolm. I think if he had lived, and if the two had lived, I am sure that at some point they would have come closer together, and would have been a very strong force in the total struggle for liberation and self-determination of Black people in our society.
[Interviewer:] Now, you've spoken about your feelings at Malcolm X's death. Do you recall any specific comments or observations or feelings that your husband had at Malcolm's assassination?
[Coretta Scott King:] Well, I am sure Martin had similar feelings that I had. I think when I first got the news, I wasn't near him so, you know, usually that's when you get these reactions. Martin abhorred violence of any kind and particularly, you know, assassinations of the leadership, you know, Malcolm, of course, in '65, and Medgar Evers in '63, and in many ways, it was, you know, it's like who was next? And I think in '65 while we were in Selma, that was a time when Martin received numerous threats. And I really feel that he had felt that something was going to happen to him in Selma, that he might be killed in Selma. As a matter of fact, when we were in Oslo, Norway, in December of '64, he talked about the fact that when we went into Selma, which we had planned to do the first of January in 1965 and did, to begin the voting rights campaign, that somebody was gonna get killed. And as we always did in the movement, we would make jokes about these things. I mean, you know, this is the way, you kind of begin to accept the fact, the reality. And he would say to people on the trip, Well, you better have a good time and enjoy yourself, because when we go to Selma, somebody's gonna get killed. And they had already sent people out to talk to the White community, and they came back with, you know, the reports were not very good. So, there was that strong feeling. And then as we were moving in Selma, you know, there was so many threats, rumors of plots of his assassination that took place. And having had Malcolm's assassination to come while he was in Selma, I'm sure it reminded him more of the possibility of his own fate, you know, that ultimate fate.
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“Interview with Coretta Scott King.” Washington University in St. Louis. http://repository.wustl.edu/concern/videos/fx719r407
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