Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Andrew King


Since reconstruction African-American leaders have embodied conflicting aspirations. While some leaders like Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass urged complete assimilation, others like W. E. B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey have preached autonomy and separation. These leaders have tended to serve as icons for rival programs; their rhetoric as authoritative, and their lives as inspired models for future leaders. This dissertation examines the hagiography of the two most famous leaders of the late 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. It argues that their rhetoric was undergirded by the myth of the heroic quest and that their lives and works embodied variations of this common narrative. A tri-part method was used. First, overt meanings of the texts were explored. Secondly, variants of the mythic quest were isolated. Third, the method explores the moral order of the myths by isolating metaphoric clusters emerging within the discourse. In order to examine the messages of King and Malcolm X, seven speeches of each man were analyzed. The speeches given by King are "Give Us the Ballot--We Will Transform the South," "I Have a Dream," "Eulogy for the Martyred Children," "Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech," "Our God Is Marching On!" "A Time to Break Silence," and "I See the Promised Land." The speeches given by Malcolm X are "Message to the Grass Roots," "The Ballot or the Bullet," "The Black Revolution," "The Harlem 'Hate Gang' Scare," "At the Audobon" on December 13, 1964, "With Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer," and "Prospects for Freedom in 1965.". Examination of the core texts revealed unexpected similarities between the two messages. The moral vision of nonviolence created a sense of difference between groups as they negotiated the terms of assimilation. Disillusionment with integration was a function of King's message at least two years before his death when he began a rhythmic denunciation of Western civilization. Malcolm X made late overtures to integrate. Time and events will further this merger until both icons are nearly emptied of specific content.