Specters of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Haunt US During George Floyd Protests

The philosophical clash between two titanic figures — Malcolm X and Martin Luther King — over the nature of social change for the black rights movement recurred during George Floyd protests.

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Protesters gather in Washington, D.C., to demand justice for George Floyd in this June photo. (Photo Credit: USA Today)

King and George Floyd Protests

Appalled by the burning and rioting in her city by some fringe elements sneaked into the ranks of the peaceful protesters, Atlanta’s female mayor cited Martin Luther King Jr. to induce calm and common sense.

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Protesters burn a police vehicle in Atlanta. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)
Martin Luther King Jr. speaks in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

‘No Justice, No Peace’

“No Justice, No Peace” has become the defining slogan of the protesters across the nation after the killing of George Floyd. If anything, it is this message that came closer to the essence of Malcolm’s trademark strategy to accomplish the rights of the black people ‘by any means necessary.’ His unapologetic stance, in stark contrast to King’s peaceful achievement of the desegregation in American society, earned Malcolm his idiosyncratic identity.

Malcolm X delivers his seminal speech in 1964.
A short New York Times documentary reconstructs the last moments of George Floyd.

Malcolm X’s Legacy

Malcolm X’s ghost has never dissipated since his death; even after Obama’s election to the White House, something that was regarded to be the realization of King’s dream, and the apogee of the black rights movement.

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Martin Luther King Jr. (L) and Malcolm X are seen together — in their only meeting — in Capitol Hill in 1964. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)


Many saw Obama’s election as the repudiation of Malcolm’s vision of America and the confirmation of King Jr.’s dream. But this reductionist reading is too simplified and rests on a false dichotomy. The truth is more complicated.

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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