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Remembering Malcolm and Martin: how should we honor their legacies?

We encounter the images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (El Hajji Malik Shabazz) in myriad forms - in history books, in movies. on merchandise. We have a national holiday set aside for commemorating Dr. King, and many African Americans also have a special observance to honor. Malcolm X on his birthday. The question is, what do we do - or what should we do - on those days? Or, more to the point, what is the best way for us to honor and carry on their legacies?

In this article, two of today's most committed and influential African-American leaders speak to African-American college students about how they can show, through their actions, that they truly understand the contributions of these two great historical leaders.

Commemorating the Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.: A Special Message to African-American Young People

One of the most appropriate ways for African-American young people to commemorate the lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King is to conduct campus and community teach-ins on their respective birthdays. Both Martin and Malcolm underwent enormous transformations as they journeyed down the path to martyrdom. Hence, it is critical that young people examine Malcolm and Martin in the fullness and totality of their evolving ideas and contributions.

With Martin, there is a tendency to focus exclusively on the "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at the March on Washington in 1963. An examination of King's April 4, 1967 speech at the Riverside Church in New York, "Beyond Viet Nam: A Time to Break Silence," and his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community might prove quite revealing. Malcolm X's autobiography is must reading. In addition, two of Malcolm's most famous speeches, "Message to the Grassroots" and "Ballots or Bullets," should provide useful insights into the maturation of Malcolm's political philosophy.

Both Malcolm and Martin were men of thought and action. Therefore, the purpose of the teach-ins should be not only to study but also to inspire young African Americans to act to solve the multiple crises African people face today in this country and around the world.

Ron Daniels is the national chairperson of Campaign for New Tomorrow and executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

Martin and Malcolm's Legacy of Service Passes on to You

The life work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X (El Hajji Malik Shabazz) exemplifies the African cultural tradition of service and sacrifice.

Dr. King and Malcolm X dared to put the well-being of all African Americans before their own. They dared to speak truth against the lies of racism, to stand tall before the blows of hatred and oppression. When these two men fell, they fell on their knees before the Creator. When they died, they left examples of wisdom, courage, and spiritual tenacity that few leaders of any race have matched.

This legacy of leadership is yours to follow. The best way to commemorate the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X is to serve - to dare to make the well-being of African Americans a priority in your own life.

The Black Student Leadership Network (BSLN) is one national organization helping young African Americans do just that. The BSLN seeks to create a new generation of servant-leaders to walk in the footsteps of Dr. King, Malcolm X, and all our ancestors who dedicated their lives to the pursuit of equality. The BLSN trains young African Americans through hands-on community service projects with families and children. The organization also trains young people to be advocates for social and political change in disenfranchised communities.

The fruits of the BSLN commitment include summer FreedOm Schools that provide academic, cultural, and enrichment programs for children and leadership development training seminars for young adults. The New York chapter, for example, provides nutritious meals to low-income families in Brooklyn twice a month.

You don't have to serve the Black community alone. Reach out to other young brothers and sisters who are willing to walk the long road to freedom our ancestors dared to travel.

In my heart I believe that if your generation makes a commitment to service and social justice, the ultimate sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X will not be in vain.

RELATED ARTICLE: Fragmented Images

In our collective memory as Black people, we recall what courage in leadership can mean. From the Second Reconstruction, the modern Civil Rights Movement, there are two outstanding profiles of visionary leadership: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Even today, there is the regrettable tendency to juxtapose these figures against each other, suggesting that they represented two antagonistic poles of hostile political opinion. Usually, the mainstream media, political and academic establishment, as well as the Black middle class, lavishes praise on Martin Luther King, Jr., and draws unfavorable comparisons between the civil rights leader and Malcolm X. Malcolm is usually projected as the uncompromising advocate of Black nationalism, while Martin is praised as the supporter of racial integrationism, the peaceful inclusion of Black people into the institutions of White authority and power. Malcolm, always brooding and alienated, is depicted as the architect of armed revolution and confrontation, while Martin's well-known advocacy of nonviolence and interracial dialogue is applauded. Malcolm is presented as the hostile critic of White liberalism, while Martin is depicted as the friend of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Yet historical memory is always fragmented and selective, partial and incomplete. Our images of Malcolm and Martin are drawn less by what they actually accomplished as individual political actors, and much less by the outlines of our own reconstructed recollections, than by the weight of what we collectively are told about them within contemporary culture. Martin moves from the role of a creative and insightful political leader to the semi-frozen state of becoming a cultural icon, with coldly chiseled features. Since Spike Lee's cinematic version of "X," younger people often have difficulty disaggregating the images of actor Denzel Washington from the actual historical figure of Malcolm. For many Black nationalists, Malcolm also experiences a metamorphosis, moving from history into the stage of the cultural icon, with his image duplicated on t-shirts. caps and various articles of clothing.

The great danger with this form of lionization is that, regardless of well-meaning motivations, it is destructive and dangerous, particularly for the oppressed. The real value of historical greatness is not the simple-minded praising of figures like King and Malcolm X: It is found by learning the lessons that their public lives and thought provide. Both of these men were profoundly human. They made errors, mistakes, misjudgments of all kinds. But both had a tremendous capacity to learn from their experiences and to listen to their critics. Most importantly, both refused to be imprisoned by the boundaries of long-standing public statements concerning their ideological orientations. They pursued in their own ways the struggle for justice for their people, and were both prepared to move in new and often uncharted directions in that effort.

Dr. Manning Marable is director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies and the African-American Studies Program at Columbia University.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children's Defense Fund.

Contact the Black Student Leadership Network at 25 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001, (202) 662-3515 for more information.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
Author:Daniels, Ron (American presidential candidate); Edelman, Marian Wright; Marable, Manning
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Feb 1, 1995
Previous Article:Inequity in the system: racism in American society & on college campuses.
Next Article:How can I afford not to teach?

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