English Literature
Ballot or the Bullet

Ballot or the Bullet

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The Bold Message of Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" Speech

In a powerful speech given in Cleveland, Ohio on April 3, 1964, Malcolm X famously stated, "They don't have to pass civil rights legislation to make a Polack an American." He used direct and forceful language to convey his beliefs on voting rights, self-defense, and the goals of the Civil Rights Movement to the audience.

At the start of his speech, Malcolm X makes it clear that he will share his perspective on the next steps for the Civil Rights Movement. He urges his listeners to put aside their differences and focus on their common issue - the white man. He clarifies that African Americans do not hold inherent bias towards the white man, but rather they are against exploitation, degradation, and oppression. He challenges white Americans to stop treating African Americans in these ways if they do not want to be seen as a problem. Throughout his speech, Malcolm X references Patrick Henry's famous quote, "Give me liberty, or give me death," emphasizing the need for African Americans to make a choice between "the ballot or the bullet."

With 1964 being an election year, Malcolm X encourages African Americans to use their votes to demonstrate to the government that they will no longer wait for the rights they deserve. He boldly declares himself and other African Americans as not being considered true Americans because they have to fight for rights that others already possess. This brings to mind the renowned 1852 speech by Frederick Douglass, "What, to the Slave, Is the Fourth of July?" which exposes the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom while millions of Americans are still enslaved.

In "The Ballot or the Bullet," Malcolm X highlights the power of the African American vote, stating that when white people are evenly divided, the black vote becomes a determining factor in who sits in the White House. He notes how politicians are aware of this fact and will say whatever it takes to secure their vote. Malcolm X also points out the collaboration between Democrats and Republicans in denying African Americans their rights, calling for unity among all African Americans to take their grievances to the United Nations as a human rights issue rather than a civil rights issue.

He emphasizes that African Americans have earned their rights by contributing to the country's wealth through their unpaid labor as slaves and by sacrificing their lives in wars. He also highlights the Supreme Court's ruling against segregation, making anyone who enforces it, including the government, criminals. This echoes Abraham Lincoln's words in his May 1858 speech, "To give victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only are necessary." By quoting Lincoln and Patrick Henry, Malcolm X aims to establish African American protests as legal according to the Supreme Court.

Malcolm X concludes by defining his goal as a Black Nationalist who desires for African Americans to achieve political, economic, and social control in their own communities. He rejects non-violence and promotes self-defense when faced with violence. He reminds African Americans of their constitutional right to bear arms and protect themselves against attacks from the white man. Malcolm X then calls on President Johnson to pass the stalled civil rights legislation in Congress to avoid the dire consequences that would arise if African Americans continued to be denied their rights. This aligns with the ideology of Black Nationalism, which advocates for the separation of African Americans from white America to form their own institutions.

The Urgent Call to Action of "The Ballot or the Bullet"

To summarize, Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech is a powerful wake-up call for African Americans to use their voting power, work together, and defend themselves to attain true equality and rights as American citizens. This speech, delivered after Malcolm X's pilgrimage to Mecca, reflects his beliefs and the growing racial tensions in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. As African Americans and white Americans engaged in violent confrontations over civil rights, Malcolm X urgently urged for action and unity in the face of injustice.

The Urgent Call for Collaboration: The Evolution of Malcolm X's Views on Achieving African American Equality

In recent times, there has been a disturbing increase in the use of violence and weapons in confrontations, a clear indication that the United States has reached a boiling point. In light of this, Malcolm X, a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement, has called for united action, urging the involvement of the United Nations before the situation spirals out of control. He also questions the government's ability and willingness to bring justice for the tragic murder of four young African American girls in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

The horrific deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was the third bombing in just 11 days in response to a federal order to integrate schools. Despite overwhelming evidence, it took decades for the perpetrators to be prosecuted, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover blocked their prosecution in 1968.

In his famous speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet," Malcolm X effectively uses both logic and emotion to appeal to his audience. He organizes his reasoning through "if-then" statements, such as when he states that "[i]f birth made you an American, [then] you wouldn't need any legislation." Additionally, Malcolm X points out the Democratic Party's alliance with "Dixiecrats," a segregationist faction in the South, as a manipulation of power. He appeals to the audience's sense of pride, emphasizing that their children will not respect them if they do not stand up against oppression. Moreover, Malcolm X highlights the struggles of African Americans' fight for voting rights by referencing President John F. Kennedy's efforts to enforce democratic elections in Cuba.

Malcolm X's powerful words in "The Ballot or the Bullet" had a significant impact on the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. The increasing reports of violence against African Americans left many feeling disillusioned with non-violent approaches. His call for Black Nationalism resonated with many, leading to the formation of groups such as the Black Panthers, who adopted similar beliefs.

However, Malcolm X's speech also alienated white Americans, as the media often misconstrued his call for self-defense as a call for violence. Many civil rights leaders questioned the effectiveness of his message and were concerned about its potential consequences.

One of the most noteworthy outcomes of "The Ballot or the Bullet" was the formation and spread of the Black Panther Party in 1966. This organization, initially established in California to combat police brutality, eventually expanded to other parts of the country. Despite being labeled as "militant," the Black Panthers also implemented crucial social programs in their communities, including health clinics and free breakfast programs.

"The Ballot or the Bullet" is recognized as one of Malcolm X's most influential speeches for several reasons. Firstly, it educated many African Americans on the importance of their right to vote and warned against falling prey to false promises. Malcolm X also reiterated the significance of self-determination and taking control of one's destiny, inspiring his audience to take action. Additionally, this speech marked Malcolm X's public break from the Nation of Islam, a Black Nationalist group of Muslims, and his desire to work with other civil rights leaders.

In conclusion, "The Ballot or the Bullet" remains a timeless and influential speech in American history. Malcolm X's words continue to serve as a powerful call to action for social change and a reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial equality.

In his powerful speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet", Malcolm X challenges the African American community to take a stand against the injustices they face. He exposes the hypocrisy of America and urges for a shift in perspective - viewing civil rights as human rights and taking it to the international stage.

Rethinking the Civil Rights Movement

Malcolm X's words resonate even today, as he emphasizes the importance of unity and working with all groups to eliminate the political, economic, and social evils plaguing their community. He declares that the Muslim Mosque, Inc. is willing to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, and in any way to achieve this goal.

  • "We [Muslim Mosque, Inc.] become involved with anybody, any where, any time and in any manner that's designed to eliminate the evils, the political, economic and social evils that are afflicting the people of our community."

His evolution towards a more inclusive approach is evident, as he no longer sees allies in black and white, but in anyone who shares his cause. This transformation is a result of his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he witnessed the possibilities of racial harmony.

Black Nationalism and Collaboration

Although Malcolm X still believes in Black Nationalism as a means to gain control over the African American community, his approach has shifted from separatism to collaboration. He recognizes the power of working together towards a common goal and emphasizes the need for unity among the community.

Advocating for Unity

Malcolm X's famous speech is not just a call for self-defense, but it is also a call to use non-violent means to achieve equal rights. He understands that unity is crucial and urges the community to set aside their differences and come together for a common cause. With his influential words, he inspires unity and collaboration in the fight for justice and equality.

In Conclusion

Malcolm X's views on collaboration underwent a major transformation throughout his life. From promoting separatism to advocating for unity, his ultimate goal remained the same - to fight against the social, political, and economic injustices faced by African Americans. His powerful message in "The Ballot or the Bullet" continues to inspire and unite people in the ongoing struggle for equal rights.

Source: Ratcliffe, Susan, Ed. Oxford Essential Quotations, 4th Ed. Oxford Reference. 2016.

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