Sunday, January 17, 2010

MLK, Malcolm X & Epiphany

As some Protestant churches reckon, we have entered the season of Epiphany, which extends from January 6 to Ash Wednesday.

In addition to the traditional church holy day, merriam-webster defines epiphany as:
3 a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
(2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
(3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
b : a revealing scene or moment

So befitting, Martin Luther King Day falls within the season of Epiphany.

One fascinating book I have read on the civil rights struggle was The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley (author of Roots). What I found most intriguing about Malcolm X was the story of his epiphany.

Born in 1925, Malcolm Little grew up with personal tragedy. His father was brutally murdered. His widowed mother struggled to keep the family together, as social workers tore the family apart. His mother's emotional break down got her committed to a mental institution.

Spending his youth in criminal activities, Malcolm landed in prison. There, he educated himself and converted to the Muslim faith associated with the Nation of Islam. Malcolm dropped his "slave" surname "Little," and took "X" for his unknown tribal origin.

Smart, articulate, Malcolm X rose to power in the civil rights struggle of African Americans in the late 1950s and 1960s. Though the Nation of Islam preached personal responsibility and self-reliance, they also vilified the dominate white race, fueling deep racial hatred.

Later, Malcolm X saw the flaws of the leaders, who did not live up to their own strict moral code. When he questioned them, he was disciplined and ostracize. Eventually, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam to become a Sunni Muslim.

While embarking on his Hajj, his lifetime trip to Mecca, Malcolm X opened his eyes to the multitude from diverse races and ethnic backgrounds, who had come together to worship in this faith. This event was his epiphany. He admitted near the end of his autobiography that he had been blinded by hate and disavowed his racism.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the very few Christian ministers and civil rights leaders of the 1960s that Muslim minister and activist Malcolm X had any respect for. Dr. King undoubtedly was most familiar with the New Testament teachings:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
Acts 10: 34-35 (NIV)


There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

These principles are behind Dr. King's famous words - men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character.

And Malcolm X was just beginning to learn this when he was unfortunately assassinated in 1965.

Photo from everystockphoto: Martin Luther King Jr.


  1. I've always liked Dr. King and disliked Malcolm X. I saw King as a uniter and Malcolm as a divider. I am glad to read that Malcolm disavowed his racism at the end, and was changing his opinions just before he died. Thanks for writing such an informative post, Susan.

  2. Thanks Denise for your insights. The last pages of the his autobiography, Malcolm X makes some amazing statements such as ...
    "... a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks." "... anger can blind human vision." (And there are many more.)
    It was tragic that he was murdered soon after he had this epiphany.