Martin Luther King Jr.’s harsh criticism of Malcolm X — published in a 1965 Playboy interview and long believed to signal a rift between the civil rights leaders — has been exposed as a “real fraud” after unedited transcripts of the interview were unearthed.

In the Playboy interview conducted by Roots author Alex Haley, King was published as saying at the conclusion of a long comment about 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.”

However, author Jonathan Eig — whose own King biography King: A Life arrives next month — went into Haley’s archives for any material related to the Playboy interview, which marked King’s longest-published interview during his lifetime. In the archives, Eig discovered a typed and unedited 84-page transcript of the interview that casts doubt on the authenticity of King’s harsh criticism of Malcolm X.

According to the Washington Post, while King did make the “fiery, demagogic, oratory” comment, it actually happened much earlier in the Haley interview — and made regarding no one in particular — and not when King was asked directly about Malcolm X. 


Additionally, the published King quote, “I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice,” does not appear at all in the unedited transcript, which suggests that Haley, a journalist at the time who has posthumously been accused of plagiarism and historical inaccuracies in his work, concocted the quote to commit what Eig called “journalistic malpractice.” (Haley also coauthored The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, which was published after Malcolm X’s Feb. 1965 death and the accuracy of which may now also come under scrutiny.) 

In the Playboy interview, King also says of Malcolm X, “I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views, as I understand them. He is very articulate, as you say. I don’t want to seem to sound as if I feel so self-righteous, or absolutist, that I think I have the only truth, the only way. Maybe he does have some of the answer. But I know that I have so often felt that I wished that he would talk less of violence, because I don’t think that violence can solve our problem,” which the transcript proved was an accurate quote and one that “shows that King was much more open-minded about Malcolm than we’ve tended to portray him,” Eig told the Washington Post.