More Malcolm's Year than Martin's
Peter Ling compares the impact of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X on black culture in the 90s.
A quarter of a century has passed since Martin Luther King was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4th, 1968. That balcony and King's motel room are now the climactic exhibit of Memphis' Civil Rights Museum. As a generation passes, a genuine reverence for the Civil Rights movement mixes with a shrewd sense of tourism. In preparation for the thirtieth anniversary of a notoriously violent protest campaign, Birmingham, Alabama, opened its Civil Rights Institute last autumn. Exhibits include a city prison cell where King wrote his famous 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'. And of course, since 1985, King has been the only African-American, indeed the only twentieth-century American, to be honoured by a federal public holiday.
The chances of Congress extending the same honour to Malcolm X are remote. Before the successful release of Spike Lee's epic film, 'X' it was also unlikely that tourists would flock to Malcolm's birthplace in Omaha, Nebraska or to the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem where Malcolm was assassinated on February 21st, 1965. However, Malcolm himself would probably have been reassured by this lack of general public recognition, largely because so much of it reflects white approval. Certainly, his response to the news of King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was hostile: