Elijah Muhammad was the leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI), attracting hundreds of Black men and women to become Black Muslims. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher and head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They might have seemed worlds apart, but both were working in their own way for the goal to better the Black community.
There was a point in 1958 that Muhammad sought to have a sit-down with King. The two camps had discussed organizing a meeting and having King speak to NOI members in Chicago.
In a letter dated March 19, 1958, Muhammad wrote to Dr.King, inviting him to Chicago and offering to pay for the trip. The letter said:
“…we are hereby writing you to ascertain a date in March or April 1958 for your appearance before the Moslems of Chicago, and of course, other citizens, in a Free Rally in our great Temple #2 in Chicago’s exclusive Hyde Park District. We suggest the earliest possible date in April, as that is the month of our many activities. We believe you hinted that you had never (in our conversation) appeared before a Moslem audience before. In that case, we would be honored to be your first Moslem audience.”
The letter was signed, “Elijah Muhammad, Messenger of Allah.”
Muhammad wasn’t the only person from the NOI eager to connect with King.
Just around the time NOI high-profile leader Malcolm X was about to leave the organization, he met King one time — and it was unplanned. It happened on March 26, 1964, in Washington, D.C.
King and Malcolm X most often disagreed on the best path to end racial discrimination and prejudice. Malcolm X was publicly critical of King’s nonviolent approach, and even referred to him as “a 20-century Uncle Tom.” Malcolm X called for a more militant approach, and King spoke out against what he considered Malcolm X’s radicalism, writing, “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,” Biography reported.
Prior to their brief meeting in D.C., Malcolm X had made a failed effort to try to bring Dr. King and other civil rights leaders together. In July 1963, Malcolm X invited King to join a rally in Harlem. King never responded to the invitation.
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On March 25, 1964, King and Malcolm X were both on Capitol Hill watching a Senate hearing about legislation to end segregation in public places and racial discrimination in employment. The bill had been proposed by the late President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Following lobbying by Dr. King and others, the bill was being pushed through Congress by President Lyndon Johnson, Biography reported.
As Dr. King was wrapping up a press conference, he was approached by Malcolm X. The two shook hands and Malcolm X expressed his desire to become more active, saying, “I’m throwing myself into the heart of the civil rights struggle.” That was it.
Elijah Muhammad did later meet with King in Muhammad’s Chicago home in 1966.
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