Malcolm X: “The Ballot or the Bullet”

(1964)

Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” delivered on April 12, 1964, in Detroit, Michigan, is one of the provocative—and some would say inflammatory—speeches through which the man born Malcolm Little gained great fame in his own lifetime. In speeches such as this, Malcolm X created the persona of an angry black man, critical of mainstream civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X rejected the doctrine of nonviolence and the Christian tradition that inspired King and many of his followers. It seemed especially sinister to some that he advocated African American self-defense “by any means necessary” (a term he used in several speeches). While Malcolm X initially scorned the tactics of nonviolence and advocated self-defense in a revolutionary cause, at the same time—as is evident in his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”—he was seeking ways to unite all African Americans in recognizing their oppression and urge them to create their own...

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Malcolm X (Library of Congress)

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