1964: Malcolm X on “The Ballot or the Bullet”

[In the last year of his life, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (popularly known as Malcolm X), left the Nation of Islam and organized the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  He launched a series of internationalist initiatives, including taking the denial of human rights of Blacks in the United States to international arenas (including the UN).  His life was a series of extraordinary pathbreaking steps for Blacks and for people in the Americas, Africa, and worldwide.  He spoke constantly, determined to open new initiatives and thinking for all who seek justice and freedom.  One April 12, 1964, he delivered the following speech, (The Ballot or the Bullet) detailing the contrary pathways toward justice and debating the prevailing views at that time. While sections promote a black capitalist solution, more compelling are his comments on the nature of the state and the illusory prospects of change within the system, or the necessity of struggling against it.  These comments continue to resound today, amid largely unchanged conditions.  Malcolm X was assassinated (less than a year after this speech was given) on February 21, 1965, at the age of 39. —  Frontlines ed.].

A 38-year-old man in a suit and tie smiles broadly. He wears glasses and has a microphone around his neckThe Ballot or the Bullet (April 12, 1964)

Mr. Moderator, Reverend Cleage, Brother Lomax, brothers and sisters, friends…and I see some enemies. In fact, I think we’d be fooling ourselves if we had an audience this large and didn’t realize that there were some enemies present.This afternoon we want to talk about the ballot or the bullet. The ballot or the bullet explains itself. But before we get into it, since this is the year of the ballot or the bullet, I would like to clarify some things that refer to me personally concerning my own personal position.

I’m still a Muslim. That is, my religion is still Islam. My religion is still Islam. I still credit Mr. Muhammad for what I know and what I am. He’s the one who opened my eyes. At present, I’m the Minister of the newly founded Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, which has its offices in the Theresa Hotel, right in the heart of Harlem that’s the black belt in New York city. And when we realize that Adam Clayton Powell is a Christian minister, he’s the…he heads Abyssinian Baptist Church, but at the same time, he’s more famous for his political struggle. And Dr. King is a Christian Minister, in Atlanta, Georgia, but he’s become more famous for being involved in the civil rights struggle. There’s another in New York, Reverend Galamison I don’t know if you’ve heard of him out here, he’s a Christian Minister from Brooklyn, but has become famous for his fight against a segregated school system in Brooklyn. Reverend Cleage, right here, is a Christian Minister, here in Detroit. He’s the head of the “Freedom Now Party”. All of these are Christian Ministers, but they don’t come to us as Christian Ministers. They come to us as fighters in some other category. I’m a Muslim minister the same as they are Christian Ministers, I’m a Muslim minister. And I don’t believe in fighting today in any one front, but on all fronts. In fact, I’m a Black Nationalist Freedom Fighter.

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