King’s Real View of Malcolm X

Malik Miah

AN IMPORTANT REVELATION in King: A Life is the author’s discovery of King’s real view of Malcolm X. Eig’s research exposes a false narrative circulated in political and academic circles. As Eig reveals, King and Malcolm were more similar in outlook than most people believed.

Malcolm X had been a target of the FBI and CIA. Since he was assassinated in Harlem in 1965, it’s become clear that the New York City police and other agencies were involved.

Malcolm had always explained that racism and racial national oppression were not at the hands of whites only. In his final years where he traveled abroad, he said that racism was rooted in the capitalist system.

Ending Jim Crow would not fundamentally change the oppression and super-exploitation of Black people. Malcolm pointed to the planned ghettoes in the North, where oppression prevailed with no need for “Blacks Only” segregation signs.

In his final year King began moving toward that same view, after experiencing racist violence in Chicago and other Northern cities. He also spoke of the suffering of Africans and Asians because of colonialism, which is why he was so outraged by the Vietnam war.

In an article in the May 23, 2022 Smithsonian Magazine, Christopher Parker writes about Eig’s revelation:

“In 1965, journalist Alex Haley who wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X after his assassination published an interview with King — the longest he ever gave — in Playboy magazine. The piece famously includes quotes from King that are critical of Malcolm X:

“I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views —at least insofar as I understand where he now stands. … I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem. And in his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the Black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, as he has done, can reap nothing but grief.”

But as Parker explains, Eig’s research suggests that these widely repeated comments were partly fabricated:

“In Haley’s archives at Duke University, Eig found what appears to be an unedited transcript of the interview. Reading it, he realized that Haley moved certain phrases around — and even added in language that King never uttered.”

Here’s what the transcript of King’s response actually said:

“I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views, as I understand them. … I wished that he would talk less about violence, because I don’t think that violence can solve our problem. And in his litany of expressing the despair of the Negro, without offering a positive, creative approach, I think that he falls into a rut sometimes.”

So King never said, “Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice;” he said that “he falls into a rut sometimes.” King also didn’t say anything about “reaping nothing but grief.”

The comment about “fiery, demagogic oratory” appears earlier in the interview and is not related to Malcolm X.

King actually said, “Fiery, demagogic oratory in the Black ghettoes urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence can achieve nothing but negative results.” The phrase “as he has done” does not appear. Eig tells NPR’s Bill Chappell that the fabrications were “journalistic malpractice.”

“There’s more to it,” he says, “but what King actually said was that he disagreed with some of Malcolm’s views, maybe with many of them — but that he was aware that his way wasn’t the only way. And it sounded like he was much more open to exploring that relationship than the Playboy interview made it out to be.”

Eig adds that King and Malcolm X “were engaged in an awkward dance, but they were listening to the same music.”

According to Parker:

“Many historians, journalists and educators were also struck by the find. As the Boston Globe’s Renée Graham writes, ‘With Eig’s discovery, we must recast our views on how King perceived Malcolm. It’s also worth interrogating who most benefited from this manufactured feud and what impact, if any, it had in undermining the civil rights movement.’

“Even before the news broke, scholars have been looking more critically at the relationship between the two leaders in recent years. Perhaps King and Malcolm X were ‘revolutionary sides of the same coin,’ as Peniel Joseph, a historian specializing in the Black power movement, told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2020.”

Eig writes in his book:

“In a telegram to Malcolm’s wife [three days after his assassination], Betty Shabazz, King wrote: ‘I was certainly saddened by the shocking and tragic assassination of your husband. While we did not always did not see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem … Always consider me a friend and if I can do anything to ease the heavy load that you are forced to carry at this time, please feel free to call me.” (Chapter 34: “Crowbar”)

March-April 2024, ATC 229