• Summary of The Ballot or the Bullet

  • Analysis of The Ballot or the Bullet

  • The Effect of the Speech The Ballot or the Bullet

  • Importance of The Ballot or the Bullet Speech

  • Notable Quotes from "The Ballot or the Bullet"

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Ballot or the Bullet: What Is It & Analysis

Malcolm X stated in his speech "The Ballot or the Bullet," delivered on April 3, 1964, in Cleveland, Ohio, that passing civil rights laws is not necessary to consider a Polack an American. In his direct and vivid address, he emphasized the importance of voting rights, self-defense, and the crucial objectives of the Civil Rights Movement to his listeners.

What precisely is "The Ballot or the Bullet"? Keep reading to find out!

Summary of The Ballot or the Bullet

Malcolm X starts "The Ballot or the Bullet" by outlining his vision for the next steps of the Civil Rights Movement. He emphasizes the need for unity among African Americans to address their common enemy – the white man. Malcolm X asserts that African Americans do not inherently harbor bias against white people; 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 the problem. Throughout the speech, Malcolm X references Patrick Henry's famous quote, "Give me liberty, or give me death," urging African Americans to choose between "the ballot or the bullet."

Malcolm X asserts that 1964, as an election year, is the moment for African Americans to insist on their rights from the government. He contends that he and other African Americans are not regarded as genuine Americans due to their ongoing struggle for rights that others have already.

In "The Ballot or the Bullet," Malcolm X highlights the power of the African American vote, stating that when white voters are evenly split and African Americans have a unified voting bloc, they can influence the outcome of elections. Politicians, he argues, are well aware of this dynamic and will say whatever is necessary to secure African American votes.

Malcolm X contends that African Americans face continued challenges because both Democrats and Republicans collude to deny them their rights. He calls for unity among African Americans to circumvent the U.S. government and appeal to the United Nations on the basis of human rights rather than civil rights.

He asserts that African Americans have earned their rights through their contributions to the country, including unpaid labor as slaves and service in every U.S. war. Malcolm X criticizes those who uphold segregation, labeling them as "criminals" in the eyes of the Supreme Court.

Malcolm X seeks to underscore the legitimacy and immediacy of the African American fight for equality and justice by referencing Abraham Lincoln, Patrick Henry, and presenting African American protests as lawful, as determined by the Supreme Court.

Malcolm X concludes by stating his objective as a Black Nationalist advocating for African Americans to achieve political, economic, and social autonomy in their communities. He argues against non-violence in the face of violence from opponents, asserting that African Americans have the constitutional right to bear arms for self-defense against white aggression.

Malcolm X calls on President Johnson to expedite the passage of civil rights legislation in Congress to prevent the dire consequences of continued denial of rights to African Americans.

Analysis of The Ballot or the Bullet

Malcolm X gave "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech right before departing the United States to journey across North Africa and the Middle East. His opinions in this address mirror the convictions he maintained prior to finishing his Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, elucidating the escalating racial strife in the United States as African Americans and white individuals clashed more violently over granting African Americans the rights rightfully theirs as American citizens.

Malcolm X delivers "The Ballot or the Bullet" with a tone of urgency and anger. He asserts, "It's not that time is running out – time has expired." Malcolm X notes that the United States has hit its breaking point, as shown by the escalating use of weapons in conflicts. He demands that all individuals unite to engage the United Nations before the situation spirals completely out of hand.

He points out that if the government can't bring whoever killed "four little girls while they were praying" to justice, then it is either unwilling to help them or entirely incapable. Malcolm X uses a combination of logic and emotion to appeal to his audience.

He uses "if-then" statements in "The Ballot or the Bullet" to organize his reasoning, such as when he states, "If birth made you an American, you wouldn't need any legislation." Malcolm X analyzes why following the Democratic Party is not in the best interest of African Americans since the Democrats allow the "Dixiecrats" a place in their organization to retain power.

Appealing to the crowd's pride, he warns that their children will lose respect for them unless they resist the white man. Malcolm X underscores the arduous battle of African Americans for voting rights by referencing John F. Kennedy's push for democratic elections in Cuba.

The Effect of the Speech The Ballot or the Bullet

The nation was stunned by numerous incidents of violence against African Americans in the early 1960s, leading many to doubt the feasibility of non-violent intervention. Malcolm X's fervent delivery and the rhetoric in "The Ballot or the Bullet" convincingly encouraged a significant number of African Americans to contemplate Black Nationalism.

It could be contended that organizations like The Black Panthers, which embraced several concepts from "The Ballot or the Bullet," emerged as a result of this speech.

However, "The Ballot or the Bullet" isolated white Americans. Malcolm X's appeals for self-defense were misinterpreted as incitements to violence by the media. His critiques of the system largely went unheard in the public eye. Civil rights figures raised doubts about the effectiveness of conveying the messages in "The Ballot or the Bullet.

Importance of The Ballot or the Bullet Speech

"The Ballot or the Bullet" is listed as one of the most important speeches Malcolm X ever gave because:

  • "The Ballot or the Bullet" was a pivotal speech that educated many African Americans on the importance of their right to vote and the need to be cautious of false promises. Malcolm X emphasized the significance of using their vote strategically, only when it benefits them.
  • He stressed the concept of self-determination as crucial for success in his speeches to African Americans, highlighting the importance of taking control of their destinies.
  • Malcolm X's speech marked his departure from the Nation of Islam and his willingness to collaborate with other civil rights leaders. He expressed a desire to work with anyone dedicated to securing the rights African Americans deserved, expanding his reach and credibility.

Notable Quotes from "The Ballot or the Bullet"

"One of them makes believe he's for you, and he's got it fixed where the other one is so tight against you, he never has to keep his promise."

Malcolm X highlights the collaboration between Democrats and Republicans to hinder the interests of African Americans.

"Let the world know how bloody his [Uncle Sam's] hands are. Let the world know the hypocrisy that's practiced over here. Let it be the ballot or the bullet."

Malcolm X emphasizes the importance of revealing the truth about Uncle Sam's bloody hands and the hypocrisy practiced in America. He advocates for using either the ballot or the bullet to bring about change.

"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."

After leaving the Nation of Islam and embarking on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm X's perspective on the Civil Rights Movement evolved. He returned with a renewed purpose to address the political, economic, and social evils affecting his community.

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