Between Cross and Crescent: Christian and Muslim Perspectives on Malcolm and Martin

Overview

There is no more detailed resource about the relationship between Martin King and Malcolm X. The depth of scholarship in this volume extends even to the extraordinary amount of information relegated to footnotes, themselves a gold mine of documentation for all readers interested in the interface between faith claims, politics, and social and cultural transformation.

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Overview

There is no more detailed resource about the relationship between Martin King and Malcolm X. The depth of scholarship in this volume extends even to the extraordinary amount of information relegated to footnotes, themselves a gold mine of documentation for all readers interested in the interface between faith claims, politics, and social and cultural transformation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Professors Baldwin and Al-Hadid, at Vanderbilt and Tennessee State Universities respectively, persuasively argue that El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (better known as Malcolm X) and Martin Luther King Jr. shared the same views about the American and worldwide race struggle at their deaths. They offer refreshing biographical insights based on exhaustive research. With the exception of one chapter, which eloquently describes Malcolm X's evolution from Nation of Islam doctrine into Sunni Islam, each chapter presents both men's views on specific topics. The historical material is laced with an overview of contemporary events such as the Million Man March, the United Nations World Conference on Racism and the attacks on America on September 11. The most satisfying portraits emerge out of the chapters on El-Shabazz's and King's relationships with their wives and children. Stronger editing would have eliminated repetition, unnecessary length and a lack of focus. A clear description of how NOI doctrine differs from Islam is missing, leaving the uninformed reader to assume that Sunni Muslims share the NOI's views on race and gender. Baldwin and Al-Hadid show a bias toward King, glossing over his extramarital affairs and plagiarism while extensively quoting El-Shabazz's more incendiary remarks. The authors illustrate how El-Shabazz and King, though not reluctant leaders, unwillingly became prisoners of circumstance El-Shabazz by NOI doctrine and King by white liberals. That these leaders' message still resonates is proof of how profound and gifted they both were, and how much has been left undone since their deaths. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Historically, Christians and Muslims have had a troubled relationship, and these two books nobly aim to generate a dialog between the two faiths. Between the Cross and Crescent successfully contrasts the lives of Malcolm X Shabazz and Martin Luther King Jr. and mostly resolves the creative tension between those leaders' philosophies. Baldwin (religious studies, Vanderbilt Univ.) has deep roots in the African-American Christian tradition, and Al-Hadid (Africana studies, Tennessee State Univ.) is a Sunni Muslim. They have written a contrapuntal biography to stress the importance of interfaith dialog and a Pan-African perspective, and to celebrate community as the highest ideal. Freedom, family, gender roles, democracy, and globalization are the major themes in this publication, the second in the publisher's "History of African American Religions" series. The Prophet & the Messiah is an equally remarkable book. Whereas the Martin/Malcolm title was written primarily from a sociocultural perspective, this one employs a religious viewpoint, intermingling East/West and sophic/mantic perspectives. Moucarry (Islamic studies, All Nations Christian Coll., England) was born in Syria, has lived in both Muslim and Christian communities, and received a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne. Although he is respectful of and sensitive to both religions, he clearly makes the case for the truth of Christianity, at the same time assuring the reader that absolute impartiality does not exist anyway. His 20 chapters include discussions of the Scriptures, key doctrines (e.g., Godhead, sin and salvation), Jesus Christ, Muhammad, and contemporary issues. Helpful appendixes list Muslim theologians and mystics and show a historical time line of Christian-Muslim relations. Although Moucarry's book was written for evangelical Christian readers and Baldwin/Al-Hadid's for college students, they both carry the message to any believer that there is one God, one humanity, one world. Both titles are highly recommended for general and student readerships in public and academic libraries. Gary P. Gillum, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813024578
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Series: History of African-American Religions Series
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 488
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Between Cross and Crescent
Christian and Muslim Perspectives on Malcolm and Martin


By Lewis V. Baldwin and Amiri YaSin Al-Hadid

University Press of Florida

Copyright © 2002 Lewis V. Baldwin and Amiri YaSin Al-Hadid.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0813024579



Chapter One



Malcolm, Martin, and Black Cultural Reality


Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us.

Negro National Anthem


Culture is an indispensable weapon in the freedom struggle. We must take hold of it and forge the future with the past.

Malcolm X


Negroes are learning that their dignity is not a matter of manners. It is not a pattern of behavior possessed by white people to be imitated by Negroes; it is unborn in a sense because they live in a culture their fathers made as part of the whole community of creators.

Martin Luther King Jr.


Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. contributed enormously to the transformation of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Through the scope of their social activism and the arresting power of their messages, they challenged white Americans who subscribed uncritically to established social and political mores, forcing them to reexamine their prevailing institutions, values, and practices. But in black America their cultural contributions carried an added dimension. Here Malcolm and Martin became cultural spokesmen, interpreters and theorists of culture, and advocates and promoters of radical responses to white cultural domination. Consequently, they have become not only prototypes for civil rights leadership but prototypical cultural heroes as well.


Cultural Roots: Malcolm and Martin in Context


Malcolm and Martin came from backgrounds that were different in some ways and similar in others. Malcolm was born to Earl and Louise Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925, the fourth of eight children. The family moved to Milwaukee before settling on the outskirts of East Lansing, Michigan. Martin was born to Alberta and Martin Luther King in Atlanta on January 15, 1929, the second of three children. The security and coherence of Martin's childhood contrasted sharply with the poverty and insecurity of Malcolm's. Even so, growing up during the worst years of the Great Depression, when joblessness and the relief rolls soared to unprecedented levels, exposed both to some of the most tragic realities of the black experience, thus contributing to their sense of identification and solidarity with all African Americans. Recalling those years, Martin wrote, "I was much too young to remember the beginning of this depression, but I do recall how I questioned my parents about the numerous people standing in bread lines when I was about five years of age. I can see the effects of this early childhood experience on my present anti-capitalistic feelings."

    Such an experience would have been more familiar to Malcolm, who recounted that "we would be so hungry we were dizzy." Added to the grinding poverty was the terrible specter of racism, which loomed large and in graphic detail in the consciousness of African Americans during the Great Depression. The fact that in some places there was "as much as a six-dollar differential in the monthly aid given to white and black families" would not have been surprising to young Malcolm and Martin, especially since they suffered the indignities of being called "nigger" and of being physically attacked and barred from facilities that whites frequented. The relationship between poverty, economic injustice, and racism had emerged clearly in their thinking when they reached adolescence, thus fertilizing their minds for the seeds of democratic socialism that would sprout later.

    Because African Americans were perhaps the most oppressed group in the land in the 1930s and 1940s, Malcolm and Martin could not have survived childhood unscathed. While it is doubtful that they seriously questioned their worth as human beings, living in a society where blacks were consistently treated differently from whites must have caused some inner conflict on their parts. Malcolm's autobiographical reflections are the best testimony to the conflicting impulses that raged within him, especially since his contacts with whites as a youngster were generally more extensive than Martin's. As a seventh grader in an integrated school in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm was a leader among his peers, a privilege not available to Martin in the rigidly segregated schools of Atlanta. Martin lost a white playmate at age six due to racism, was slapped by a white woman when he was only eight, and was forced to surrender a bus seat to a white passenger at age fourteen—experiences that clearly contrasted with the affirmation and acceptance he enjoyed in Atlanta's larger black community. Martin later reflected on his struggle to deal with such experiences in terms that Malcolm would have easily understood: "As I look back over those early years, I did have something of an inner tension. On the one hand my mother taught me that I should feel a sense of somebodiness.... On the other hand, I had to go out and face the system, which stared me in the face every day saying, 'You are less than, you are not equal to.' So this was a real tension within me."

    The shared experience of oppression based on race united the Littles and the Kings in spirit even as material possessions and educational levels marked off boundaries between them. It made no difference that the Littles were significantly less educated and affluent than the Kings. The fact that one family lived in the Midwest and the other in the more segregated South held no significance. Growing up in settings where all blacks suffered on the basis of race and where whites were constantly belligerent in their dealings with all people of color, it was only natural for Malcolm and Martin to sense the need for black unity. Their early awareness of oppression, of being black in a hostile white world, precluded any possibility of the kind of regional self-consciousness that, under different circumstances, would have undermined racial solidarity. Also, that awareness stimulated their curiosity and ultimately led them to think of African Americans as essentially a single people with their own institutions, values, and ways of thinking and living.

    That sense of the essential oneness of the folk was reinforced by a potent black culture that became all the more vital as African Americans from the Deep South moved North and interacted with their people from various regions of the country. Malcolm and Martin were nurtured in the essentials of that culture, despite their initial inability to understand it in theoretical terms. African influences on that culture, particularly in the areas of folklore and religion, remained evident in the North and the South throughout the 1930s and 1940s, due mainly to persistent patterns of segregation and to the continuing presence and influence of ex-slaves and their immediate descendants. Under such influences, Malcolm and Martin found values that informed their earliest conceptions of freedom and community. Moreover, they discovered not only the foundation for what became a lifelong interest in the fate of African Americans but also vital sources on which they would later draw as religious leaders and as theorists and transformers of culture.

    A greater foundation could hardly have been laid, especially since their fathers were Baptist preachers with deep roots in the South. The experiences that both Earl Little and Martin Luther King Sr. had known while growing up in rural Georgia, when memories of slavery and the realities of Jim Crow loomed large, and the spiritual values they subsequently brought to their art as preachers and their activities as freedom fighters, strengthened young Malcolm and Martin as they struggled to understand the world and their place in it. The boys saw their fathers not only as men of courage who had not been demoralized and spiritually diminished by oppression but also as living examples of how the younger generations could best meet the challenges of racism and white domination.

    Malcolm's and Martin's early exposure to the currents of Africanity in black culture proved only natural. Earl Little's roots in Georgia and Louise Little's background in the West Indies, together with their Garveyism and teachings about Africa, virtually ensured young Malcolm's exposure to the cultural symbols and traditions of people from various parts of Africa. While not having the same advantages in relation to black culture, Martin did find in his parents, the preacher and the musician, spiritual and artistic values that people of African descent anywhere in the world would have claimed as their own.

    The richness of black culture was such that young Martin and Malcolm were exposed to folk practices and beliefs dating back more than a century in slavery and many more in Africa. The youngsters observed the lingering remnants of a powerful tradition that included voodoo, ghostlore, herbalism, witchcraft, and fortune-telling. Such beliefs and practices could be found wherever ex-slaves and their immediate offspring resided. Remembering some of his experiences as a boy in church, Malcolm declared, "It was spooky, with ghosts and spirituals and 'hants' seeming to be in the very atmosphere." His mother, "who always had a strong intuition of things about to happen," had a vision of the death of her husband, Earl Little, a few hours before he was actually killed, an experience not altogether surprising because visions, dreams, and signs that foretold imminent death had pervaded the sacred world not only of native Africans for generations but also that of the slaves and their descendants in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Louise Little's children inherited her belief in visions, omens, and signs. Malcolm once remarked, "When something is about to happen, I can feel something, sense something."

    The Kings' belief in the surviving spirits of ancestors was as much African in character as the Littles' propensity toward visions, omens, and signs. Martin Sr. and Alberta assured their twelve-year-old son Martin, upon the death of his maternal grandmother in 1941, that "somehow" she "still lived," thus easing the pain of the loss. For the Kings, as for their slave forebears, the spirits of ancestors lessened the hardship of the living and linked the world of the living with the other world, thus explaining why respect for ancestors and elders remained at the core of black culture.

    Traditions that valued the experiences and wisdom of the aged as sources of insight and instruction were strongly embraced by the Littles and the Kings, thus recalling Africa and slave culture in significant ways. Exposed to such traditions, Malcolm and Martin became quite conscious of the central place of the ancestors and elders as bearers of culture and as transmitters of cultural values from generation to generation, a consciousness heightened by the strict discipline imposed by their parents.

    Malcolm and Martin also witnessed in their own families variants of African spirit possession that took the forms of "shouting" and "holy dancing." Malcolm's recollection of his father "jumping and shouting as he preached, with the congregation jumping and shouting behind him, their souls and bodies devoted to singing and praying," clearly squares with Martin's memories of his father "prancing" and "walking the benches" with his parishioners. Such ceremonies afforded ample proof that Malcolm's early Nebraska and Michigan environments shared many similarities with Martin's Georgia setting. Moreover, they showed that Earl Little and Martin Luther King Sr., while different in terms of educational level, wealth, and influence, became essentially one in their affirmation of forms of sacred dance.

    Discussions about the many positive and creative contributions of the slaves to the fashioning of African-American culture probably never surfaced in any serious ways in the Little and King households. This would not have been unusual in the 1930s and 1940s, when the slave experience was viewed in the most negative terms and when images of a history of primitive savagery in Africa found wide acceptance even in parts of the African-American community. Negative images of Africa invariably translated into distorted pictures of slave culture. As a youngster, Malcolm was not prone to reject such images, despite his father's frequent references to the glories of Africa in the centuries before the establishment of slavery. "My image of Africa, at that time," Malcolm reminisced, "was of naked savages, cannibals, monkeys and tigers and steaming jungles." Martin's earliest perception was hardly different. Confronted with false portrayals of Africa, and with his mother's reflections on the horrors of slavery and its tragic legacy of segregation, he, as was the case with Malcolm, was not prepared to think of a rich slave culture grounded in the ring shout and other African ceremonial forms—a culture that was the basis of so much of what he witnessed and experienced in black Atlanta.

    The murder of Earl Little in 1931 deprived Malcolm of perhaps the most powerful cultural symbol of his childhood. Only six at the time, Malcolm would endure a series of tragedies over the next four years, highlighted by his mother's mental breakdown and the disintegration of his family. A sense of homelessness and a longing for family stability followed, causing pain beyond anything Martin could have imagined in his more secure and stable world. Shuttling between different homes, Malcolm moved in with the Gohannas family, whom he later described as "nice, older people, and great churchgoers." Here he was continuously exposed to cultural values and practices that reflected Africa and the slave experience on many levels and that would have been commonplace in the church environment Martin knew as a child. Malcolm recounted: "The Gohannas were very religious people. Big Boy and I attended church with them. They were sanctified Holy Rollers now. The preachers and congregations jumped even higher and shouted even louder than the Baptists I had known. They sang at the top of their lungs, and swayed back and forth and cried and moaned and beat on tambourines and chanted." His description of the Gohannas mirrors Martin's account of having grown up in a community where "most of our neighbors were deeply religious."

    The two boys responded similarly to what they perceived as the excessively emotional character of African-American religion. Malcolm recalled that the church "confused and amazed me," and Martin recounted that "the shouting and stamping in Negro Churches embarrassed me." Apparently, both failed initially to grasp the artistic, spiritual, and therapeutic value of African-American religion as well as the extent to which the church served as the fountainhead of culture in the black community. This would have been only natural for them at a time when images of black religion as an unenlightened, superficial caricature of the Christian faith pervaded media sources and the works of misinformed scholars.

    Even so, religion and the church figured prominently in Malcolm and Martin's earliest conceptions of "place," "freedom," and "community." Malcolm frequently alluded to the presence of churches and to the numerous occasions on which he accompanied his mother and siblings in worshiping with Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Exposure to the church continued to some degree when fourteen-year-old Malcolm moved to Boston to live with his sister Ella. He found that "the Boston Negroes, like all other Negroes I had seen at church, threw their souls and bodies wholly into worship." Unimpressed with his experiences, Malcolm drifted from the Christian faith in ways that remained untypical of Martin, who always claimed the church as his "second home." For Martin, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, pastored by his father and located near the Kings' home on Auburn Avenue, remained enormously important. Ebenezer Church and the King family became extensions of each other, especially since Martin's maternal grandfather, A. D. Williams, had pastored the church for thirty-seven years (1894-1931) before Martin Sr. took over.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from Between Cross and Crescent by Lewis V. Baldwin and Amiri YaSin Al-Hadid. Copyright © 2002 by Lewis V. Baldwin and Amiri YaSin Al-Hadid. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Out of the Dark Past: Malcolm, Martin, and Black Cultural Reality 9
2 Al-Qur'an and Sunnah: From Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz 49
3 Of Their Spiritual Strivings: Malcolm and Martin on Religion and Freedom 83
4 In the Matter of Faith: Malcolm and Martin on Family and Manhood 128
5 The Character of Womanhood: The Views of Malcolm and Martin 160
6 A New Spirit of Resistance: Malcolm and Martin on Children and Youth 200
7 The Great Debate: Multiethnic Democracy or National Liberation 241
8 Reluctant Admiration: What Malcolm and Martin Thought about Each Other 280
9 Toward a Broader Humanism: Malcolm, Martin, and the Search for Global Community 315
Notes 359
Bibliography 433
Index 469
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