I’ve been thinking about King because I’m writing an academic paper about media representations of him…and have been thinking about Malcolm X because his birthday coincides with that of my middle son. Next week I will be as old as Martin Luther King jr. was when he was brutally assassinated, leaving behind two sons and two daughters. In one year I’ll be as old as Malcolm X was when he was murdered, leaving behind six daughters.

I am where I am because of the dual legacies they represent.

Although Malcolm X never engaged in the organizing work that Martin Luther King did, for a number of reasons, it is very difficult to talk not only about black nationalism but about the development of Black Studies without talking about Malcolm X. And of course Martin Luther King Jr. led the desegregation movement.

But both families were financially and mentally broken after their assassinations, signaling that neither King nor X thought much about what would happen to their families afterwards. The reason why the King family held on to King’s legacy and fought to be compensated for it was not because they were selfish, but rather because they needed the income. Neither Coretta nor Betty was ever able to really get over the deaths of their spouses because of who their spouses were and neither remarried.

I do not believe that the gains made because of their activities outweigh the damage caused to their individual families. Every action that movement folks participated in carried immense risk. But while King and X chose to bore the risks they took, their children did NOT. Further those risks could have been minimized, with either a different strategic approach that emphasized life rather than martyrdom, or at least with some type of planning.

I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts, particularly if you have children.