Malcolm X electrified urban audiences with his eloquent prose and inspirational style. In 1963, he split with the Nation of Islam; in 1964, he made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Later that year, he showed signs of softening his stand on violence and even met with Martin Luther King Jr. to exchange remarks. What direction he might have ultimately taken is lost to a history that can never be written. As Malcolm X led a mass rally in Harlem on February 21, 1965, rival Black Muslims gunned him down.
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On July 31, 1963, less than a month before the March on Washington for jobs and Freedom, Malcolm X invited Martin Luther King Jr. and other national civil rights leaders to speak at a Muslim rally in Harlem. In his letter, Malcolm warned that the nation's racial crisis might "erupt into an uncontrollable explosion" and insisted that racial unity was urgently needed.
Three decades after their deaths, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still symbolize opposing ideological positions that divide African-Americans. Their clashes set the tone for internecine battles that have continued to disrupt Black communities. Which path to social justice is correct? By any means necessary? Or nonviolence? Integration or separation? Spike Lee raised the issue of the contrast between the two men at the end of his great film, . A photograph of the two looms silently on the screen.