On February 21, 1965 — 52 years ago — Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. His death prompted reactions from many Civil Rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. He sent Malcolm X's wife, Betty Shabazz, this telegram:
In it, King wrote, "While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem."
The complex relationship between two Civil Rights leaders
That telegram was the coda to the complex relationship between two civil rights leaders who did not agree on how the fight for racial equality should be waged — King was known for his dedication to strictly non-violent resistance, while Malcolm X's philosophy was that equal rights should be obtained by "any means necessary."
But that doesn't mean Malcolm X didn't try to work with King in his own way. In 1963, he invited King to speak at a rally in New York City, to speak to the group "before the racial powder keg explodes." A year later, Malcolm X sent King a telegram offering what was surely a much more aggressive form of resistance to the Ku Klux Klan than King was comfortable with:
It's common to view Malcolm X entirely in opposition to King. However, in a 1988 interview, King's wife Coretta Scott King lent a more complete perspective to the pair and their relationship, which she implied would have flourished if they had lived longer:
I think they respected each other. Martin had the greatest respect for Malcolm and he agreed with him in, and, in terms of the feeling of racial pride and the fact that Black people should believe in themselves and see themselves as, as lovable and beautiful. The fact that Martin had had a strong feeling of connectedness to Africa and so did Malcolm. Ah, 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.