It Was a Famed MLK Interview. It Might Not Be Accurate

Author Jonathan Eig suggests MLK's comments on Malcolm X are different than what ran
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 10, 2023 10:40 AM CDT
Was MLK's Harsh Criticism of Malcolm X Fabricated?
The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, right, and Bishop Julian Smith, left, flank Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a civil rights march in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 28, 1968.   (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)

Martin Luther King Jr. may have not said the harsh words about Malcolm X that are famously attributed to him—or, at least, not about Malcolm X directly. That's author Jonathan Eig's takeaway after reading what appears to be an unedited transcript of the full interview between King and Roots author Alex Haley. As the Washington Post reports, Haley was a 43-year-old journalist when he interviewed King for Playboy in 1965. The published article contains these lines regarding Malcolm X:

  • "And in his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. 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."

The bolded parts (bolded by Newser) appear nowhere in the transcript. The line reading, "Fiery ... violence" appears long before King discusses Malcolm X, and was said as a response to a question about "Negro extremists who advocate armed violence and sabotage." It wouldn't be the first time Haley, who died in 1992, has been questioned about the accuracy of his work.

As the Post explains, Eig's own book, King: A Life, is due out next Tuesday, and his research for the book took him to the Haley archives at Duke. There, he came across the 84-page transcript, which he suspects was typed by a secretary who listened to a taped recording of the interview that Eig was unable to find in the archives.

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Eig's take: Haley committed "journalistic malpractice" and in doing so, furthered the idea that King wasn't as radical as he really was. "He was a Christian radical, and his radicalism came from a different place than Malcolm's did, but they always had a lot in common. They always believed that you had to take radical steps to change America, to end racism, to create a country that lived up to the words of its promises." Literary Hub offers its own view of Eig's findings: "No one will ever know if this was Haley's doing, or his editors, but this discovery by Eig represents an important shift in assessing King's opinion of his 'radical' foil." (More Malcolm X stories.)

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