"The Ballot or the Bullet"
Speech by Malcolm X
(12 April, 1964 in Detroit, MI)
(Photo not taken on this occasion)
Mr. Moderator, Reverend Cleage, Brother Lomax, brothers and sisters, and friends and I see some enemies. In fact, I think weíd be fooling ourselves if we had an audience this large and didnít 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. Mohammed for what I know and what I am. Heís 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 Teresa Hotel, right in the heart of Harlem -- thatís the black belt in New York city. And when we realize that Adam Clayton Powell is a Christian minister, heís the -- he heads Abyssinian Baptist Church, but at the same time, heís more famous for his political struggling.
And Dr. King is a Christian Minister, in Atlanta Ė or from Atlanta Georgia -- or in Atlanta, Georgia, but heís become more famous for being involved in the civil rights struggle. Thereís another in New York, Reverend Galamison -- I donít know if youíve heard of him out here Ė heís a Christian Minister from Brooklyn, but has become famous for his fight against a segregated school system in Brooklyn. Reverend Clee, right here, is a Christian Minister, here in Detroit. Heís the head of the ďFreedom Now Party.Ē
All of these are Christian Ministers -- All of these are Christian Ministers, but they donít come to us as Christian Ministers. They come to us as fighters in some other category.
Iím a Muslim minister -- the same as they are Christian Ministers -- Iím a Muslim minister. And I donít believe in fighting today in any one front, but on all fronts.
In fact, Iím a black Nationalist Freedom Fighter.
Islam is my religion, but I believe my religion is my personal business. It governs my personal life, my personal morals. And my religious philosophy is personal between me and the God in whom I believe; just as the religious philosophy of these others is between them and the God in whom they believe.
And this is best this way. Were we to come out here discussing religion, weíd have too many differences from the outstart and we could never get together. So today, though Islam is my religious philosophy, my political, economic, and social philosophy is Black Nationalism. You and I -- As I say, if we bring up religion weíll have differences; weíll have arguments; and weíll never be able to get together. But if we keep our religion at home, keep our religion in the closet, keep our religion between ourselves and our God, but when we come out here, we have a fight thatís common to all of us against a [sic] enemy who is common to all of us.
The political philosophy of Black Nationalism only means that the black man should control the politics and the politicians in his own community. The -- The time -- The time when white people can come in our community and get us to vote for them so that they can be our political leaders and tell us what to do and what not to do is long gone.
By the same token, the time when that same white man, knowing that your eyes are too far open, can send another negro into the community and get you and me to support him so he can use him to lead us astray -- those days are long gone too.
The political philosophy of Black Nationalism only means that if you and I are going to live in a Black community -- and thatís where weíre going to live, cause as soon as you move into one of their -- soon as you move out of the Black community into their community, itís mixed for a period of time, but theyíre gone and youíre right there all by yourself again.
We must -- We must understand the politics of our community and we must know what politics is supposed to produce. We must know what part politics play in our lives. And until we become politically mature we will always be mislead, lead astray, or deceived or maneuvered into supporting someone politically who doesnít have the good of our community at heart.
So the political philosophy of Black Nationalism only means that we will have to carry on a program, a political program, of re-education to open our peoples eyes, make us become more politically conscious, politically mature, and then we will -- whenever we get ready to cast our ballot that ballot, will be cast for a man of the community who has the good of the community of heart.
The economic philosophy of Black Nationalism only means that we should own and operate and control the economy of our community. You would never found -- you canít open up a black store in a white community. White men wonít even patronize you. And heís not wrong. Heís got sense enough to look out for himself. You the one who donít have sense enough to look out for yourself.
The white man -- The white man is too intelligent to let someone else come and gain control of the economy of his community. But you will let anyone come in and take control of the economy of your community, control the housing, control the education, control the jobs, control the businesses, under the pre-text that you want to integrate. No, you outta your mind.
The political, the economic philosophy of Black Nationalism only means that we have to become involved in a program of reeducation to educate our people into the importance of knowing that when you spend your dollar out of the community in which you live, the community in which you spend your money becomes richer and richer; the community out which you take your money becomes poorer and poorer.
And because these Negroes, who have been mislead, misguided, are breaking their necks to take their money and spend it with The Man, The Man is becoming richer and richer, and youíre becoming poorer and poorer. And then what happens? The community in which you live becomes a slum. It becomes a ghetto. The conditions become run down. And then you have the audacity to complain about poor housing in a run-down community. Why you run it down yourself when you take your dollar out.
And you and I are in the double-track, because not only do we lose by taking our money someplace else and spending it, when we try and spend it in our own community weíre trapped because we havenít had sense enough to set up stores and control the businesses of our own community. The man whoís controlling the stores in our community is a man who doesnít look like we do. Heís a man who doesnít even live in the community. So you and I, even when we try to spend our money in the block where we live or the area where we live, weíre spending it with a man who, when the sun goes down, takes that basket full of money in another part of the town.
So weíre trapped, trapped, double-trapped, triple -rapped. Anywhere we go we find that weíre trapped. And every kind of solution that someone comes up with is just another trap. But the political and economic philosophy of Black Nationalism -- the economic philosophy of Black Nationalism shows our people the importance of setting up these little stores and developing them and expanding them into larger operations. Woolworth didnít start out big like they are today. They started out with a dime store and expanded and expanded and then expanded until today, theyíre are all over the country and all over the world, and they get to some of everybodyís money.
Now this is what you and I -- General Motors is same way. They didnít start out like they it is. It started out just a little rat race type operation. And it expanded and it expanded until today where it is right now. And you and I have to make a start and the best place to start is right in the community where we live.
So our people not only have to be reeducated to the importance of supporting black business, but the black man himself has to be made aware of the importance of going into business. And once you and I go into business, we own and operate at least the businesses in our community. What we will be doing is developing a situation wherein we will actually be able to create employment for the people in the community. And once you can create some employment in the community where you live it will eliminate the necessity of you and me having to act ignorantly and disgracefully, boycotting and picketing some practice some place else trying to beg him for a job.
Anytime you have to rely upon your enemy for a job -- youíre in bad shape. When you have -- he is your enemy. Let me tell you, you wouldnít be in this country if some enemy hadnít kidnapped you and brought you here.
On the other hand, some of you think you came here on the Mayflower.
So as you can see brothers and sisters, today -- this afternoon, it is not our intention to discuss religion. Weíre going to forget religion. If we bring up religion, weíll be in an argument, and the best way to keep away from arguments and differences -- as I said earlier -- put your religion at home -- in the closet.
Keep it between you and your God.
Because if it hasnít done anything more for you than it has, you need to forget it anyway.
Whether you are -- Whether you are a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Nationalist, we all have the same problem. They donít hang you because youíre a Baptist; they hang you 'cause youíre black. They donít attack me because Iím a Muslim; they attack me 'cause Iím black. They attack all of us for the same reason; all of us catch hell from the same enemy. Weíre all in the same bag, in the same boat. We suffer political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation -- all of them from the same enemy. The government has failed us; you canít deny that. Anytime you live in the twentieth century, 1964, and you walkin' around here singing ďWe Shall Overcome,Ē the government has failed us.
This is part of whatís wrong with you -- you do too much singing. Today itís time to stop singing and start swinging. You canít sing up on freedom, but you can swing up on some freedom. Cassius Clay can sing, but singing didnít help him to become the heavy-weight champion of the world -- swinging helped him become the heavy-weight champion. This government has failed us; the government itself has failed us, and the white liberals who have been posing as our friends have failed us.
And once we see that all these other sources to which weíve turned have failed, we stop turning to them and turn to ourselves. We need a self help program, a do-it-yourself philosophy, a do-it-right-now philosophy, a itís-already-too- late philosophy. This is what you and I need to get with, and the only time -- the only way we are going to solve our problem is with a self-help program. Before we can get a self-help program started we have to have a self-help philosophy.
Black nationalism is a self-help philosophy. What's is so good about it? You can stay right in the church where you are and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. You can stay in any kind of civic organization that you belong to and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. You can be an atheist and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. This is a philosophy that eliminates the necessity for division and argument. 'Cause if you are black you should be thinking black, and if you are black and you not thinking black at this late date, well Iím sorry for you.
Once you change your philosophy, you change your thought pattern. Once you change your thought pattern, you change your -- your attitude. Once you change your attitude, it changes your behavior pattern and then you go on into some action. As long as you gotta sit-down philosophy, youíll have a sit-down thought pattern, and as long as you think that old sit-down thought youíll be in some kind of sit-down action. Theyíll have you sitting in everywhere. Itís not so good to refer to what youíre going to do as a sit-in. That right there castrates you. Right there it brings you down. What -- What goes with it? What -- Think of the image of someone sitting. An old woman can sit. An old man can sit. A chump can sit. A coward can sit. Anything can sit. Well you and I been sitting long enough, and itís time today for us to start doing some standing, and some fighting to back that up.
When we look like -- at other parts of this earth upon which we
live, we find that black, brown, red, and yellow people in
What is 20th -- What -- What do you call second class citizenship? Why, thatís colonization. Second class citizenship is nothing but 20th century slavery. How you gonna tell me youíre a second class citizen. They donít have second class citizenship in any other government on this earth. They just have slaves and people who are free. Well, this country is a hypocrite. They try and make you think they set you free by calling you a second class citizen. No, youíre nothing but a 20th century slave.
Just as it took nationalism to move -- to remove colonialism from
And 1964 looks like it might be the year of the ballot or the bullet.
Why does it look like it might be the year of the ballot or the
bullet? Because Negroes have listened to the trickery, and the lies,
and the false promises of the white man now for too long. And
theyíre fed up. Theyíve become disenchanted. Theyíve become
disillusioned. Theyíve become dissatisfied, and all of this has
built up frustrations in the black community that makes the black
Whenever you got a racial powder keg sitting in your lap, youíre in more trouble than if you had an atomic powder keg sitting in your lap. When a racial powder keg goes off, it doesnít care who it knocks out the way. Understand this, itís dangerous.
And in 1964 this seems to be the year, because what can the white
man use now to fool us after he put down that march on
So today, our people are disillusioned. Theyíve become disenchanted. Theyíve become dissatisfied, and in their frustrations they want action.
And in 1964 youíll see this young black man, this new generation asking for the ballot or the bullet. That old Uncle Tom action is outdated. The young generation donít want to hear anything about the odds are against us. What do we care about odds?
When this country here was first being founded there were 13
colonies. The -- The whites were colonized. They were fed up with
this taxation without representation, so some of them stood up and
said ďliberty or death.Ē Though I went to a white school over here
And here you have 22 million Afro-American black people today catching more hell than Patrick Henry ever saw. And Iím -- Iím here to tell you in case you donít know it -- that you got a new -- you got a new generation of black people in this country who donít care anything whatsoever about odds. They donít want to hear you old Uncle Tom handkerchief heads talking about the odds. No. This is a new generation. If theyíre gonna draft these young black men and send them over to Korea or South Vietnam to face 800 million Chinese -- if youíre not afraid of those odds, you shouldnít be afraid of these odds.
Why is America -- Why does this loom to be such an explosive political year? Because this is the year of politics. This is the year when all of the white politicians are going to come into the Negro community. You never see them until election time. You canít find them until election time. Theyíre going to come in with false promises, and as they make these false promises they're gonna feed our frustrations and this will only serve to make matters worse.
Iím no politician. Iím not even a student of politics. Iím not a
Republican, nor a Democrat, nor an American, and got sense enough to
know it. Iím one of the 22 million black victims of the Democrats,
one of the 22 million black victims of the Republicans, and one of
the 22 million black victims of Americanism. And when I speak, I
donít speak as a Democrat, or a Republican,
*nor an American.*
I speak as a victim of
If you -- If you go to jail, so what? If you black, you were born in jail. If you black, you were born in jail, in the North as well as the South. Stop talking about the South. Long as you south of the -- Long as you south of the Canadian border, youíre south.
Donít call Governor Wallace a
They see that the whites are so evenly divided that every time they
vote the race is so close they have to go back and count the votes
all over again. And that -- which means that any block, any minority
that has a block of votes that stick together is in a strategic
position. Either way you go, thatís who gets it. Youíre in a
position to determine who will go to the White House, and who will
stay in the dog house. Youíre the one who has that power. You can
keep Johnson in
When you see this, you can see that the Negro vote is the key
factor. And despite the fact that you are in a position to be the
determining factor, what do you get out of it? The Democrats have
And what kind of alibi do they come up with? They try and pass the buck to the Dixiecrats. Now back during the days when you were blind, deaf, and dumb, ignorant, politically immature, naturally you went along with that. But today as your eyes come open, and you develop political maturity, youíre able to see and think for yourself, and you can see that a Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat in disguise.
You look at the structure of the government that controls this country; itís controlled by 16 senatorial committees and 20 congressional committees. Of the 16 senatorial committees that run the government, 10 of them are in the hands of Southern segregationists. Of the 20 congressional committees that run the government, 12 of them in the -- are in the hands of Southern segregationists. And they're going to tell you and me that the South lost the war.
You, today, have -- are in the hands of a government of
segregationists, racists, white supremacists who belong to the
Democratic party, but disguise themselves as
Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat.
Whoever runs the Democrats is also the father of the
Dixiecrats, and the father of all of
them is sitting in the White House. I say and I say it again: You
got a President whoís nothing but a Southern segregationist from the
And the first thing the cracker does when he comes in power, he takes all the Negro leaders and invites them for coffee to show that heís alright. And those Uncle Toms canít pass up the coffee. They come away from the coffee table telling you and me that this man is alright 'cause heís from the South, and since heís from the South he can deal with the South. Look at the logic that theyíre using. What about Eastland? Heís from the South. Make him the President. He can -- If Johnson is a good man from the 'cause heís from Texas, and being from Texas will enable him to deal with the South, Eastland can deal with the South better than Johnson. Oh, I say youíve been mislead. You been had. You been took.
I was in Washington a couple weeks ago while the Senators were
filibustering, and I noticed in the back of the Senate a huge map,
and on this map it showed the distribution of Negroes in America,
and surprisingly the same Senators that were involved in the
filibuster were from the states where there were the most Negroes.
Why were they filibustering the civil rights legislation? Because
the civil rights legislation is supposed to guarantee voting rights
to Negroes in those states, and those senators from those states
know that if the Negroes in those states can vote, those senators
are down the drain. The Representatives of those states go down the
drain. And in the Constitution of this country it has a stipulation
wherein, whenever the rights, the voting rights, of people in a
certain district are violated, then the Representative whoís from
that particular district, according to the Constitution, is supposed
to be expelled from the Congress. Now, if this particular aspect of
the Constitution was enforced, why you wouldnít have a cracker in
These Northern Democrats are in cahoots with the Southern Democrats. Theyíre playing a giant con game, a political con game. You know how it goes. One of them -- one of them comes to you and makes believe he's for you, and heís in cahoots with the other one thatís not for you. Why? Because neither one of them is for you, but they got to make you go with one of them or the other. So this is a con game. And this is what theyíve been doing with you and me all these years.
First thing Johnson got off the plane when he become President, he asked ďWhereís Dicky?Ē You know who ďDickyĒ is? Dicky is old Southern cracker Richard -- Richard Russell. Look here, yes. Lyndon B. Johnsonís best friend is the one who is the head, whoís heading the forces that are filibustering civil rights legislation. You tell me how in the hell is he going to be Johnsonís best friend? How can Johnson be his friend, and your friend too? No, that man is too tricky. Especially if his friend is still old Dicky.
Whenever the Negroes keep the Democrats in power, theyíre keeping the Dixiecrats in power. Is this true? A vote for a Democrat is nothing but a vote for a Dixiecrat. I know you donít like me saying that, but I, Iím not the kind of person who come here to say what you like. Iím going to tell you the truth, whether you like it or not.
Up here, in the North you have the same thing. The Democratic party donít -- don't do it. They donít do it that way. They got a think that they call gerrymandering. They -- They maneuver you out of power. Even though you vote, they fix it so youíre voting for nobody; theyíve got you going and coming. In the South, theyíre outright political wolves. In the North, theyíre political foxes. A fox and a wolf are both canine, both belong to the dog family. Now you take your choice. You going to choose a Northern dog or a Southern dog? Because either dog you choose I guarantee you youíll still be in the dog house.
This is why I say itís the ballot or the bullet. Itís liberty or
itís death. Itís freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.
A revolution is bloody, but
I hope that the white man can see this, 'cause if he donít see it youíre finished. If you donít see it youíre going to be coming -- youíre going to become involved in some action in which you donít have a chance. And we donít care anything about your atomic bomb; it's -- itís useless because other countries have atomic bombs. When two or three different countries have atomic bombs, nobody can use them, so it means that the white man today is without a weapon. If youíre gonna -- If you want some action, you gotta come on down to Earth. And there's more black people on Earth than there are white people on Earth.
I only got a couple more minutes. The white man can never win another war on the ground. His days of war, victory, his reign -- his days of ground victory are over. Can I prove it? Yes. Take all the action thatís going on this earth right now that heís involved in -- tell me where heís winning. Nowhere.
Why some rice farmers -- some rice farmers --
some rice eaters ran him out of
Up in French Indo-China those little peasants, rice growers took on
the might of the French army and ran all the Frenchmen -- you
The same thing happened in
So itís the -- it's the ballot or the bullet. Today our people can see that weíre faced with a government conspiracy. This government has failed us. The senators who are filibustering concerning your and my rights, that's the government. Donít say itís Southern senators. This is the government; this is a government filibuster. Itís not a segregationist filibuster. Itís a government filibuster. Any kind of activity that takes place on the floor of the Congress or the Senate, itís the government. Any kind of dilly-dallying, thatís the government. Any kind of pussy-footing, thatís the government. Any kind of act thatís designed to delay or deprive you and me right now of getting full rights, thatís the government that's responsible.
And any time you find the government involved in a conspiracy to violate the citizenship or the civil rights of a people, then you are wasting your time going to that government expecting redress. Instead, you have to take that government to the World Court and accuse it of genocide and all of the other crimes that it is guilty of today.
So those of us whose political, and economic, and social philosophy
is black nationalism have become involved
in the civil rights struggle. We have injected ourselves into the
civil rights struggle, and we intend to expand it from the level of
civil rights to the level of human rights. As long as you're -- As
long as you're fighting on the level of civil rights, youíre under
Uncle Samís jurisdiction. Youíre going to his court expecting him to
correct the problem. He created the problem. Heís the criminal. You
donít take your case to the criminal; you take your criminal to
court. When the government of
Now you tell me how can the plight of everybody on this earth reach the halls of the United Nations, and you have 22 million Afro-Americans whose choices are being bound, whose little girls are being murdered, whose leaders are being shot down in broad daylight. Now you tell me why the leaders of this struggle have never taken it before the United Nations. So our next move is to take the entire civil rights struggle problems into the United Nations, and let the world see that Uncle Sam is guilty of violating the human rights of 22 million Afro-Americans....
[short audio gap...content uncertain]
[Uncle Sam...] and still has the audacity or the nerve to stand up
himself as the leader of the free world.
Not only is he a crook, heís a hypocrite. Here he is standing up in
front of other people, Uncle Sam, with the blood of your and mine
mothers and fathers on his hands, with the blood dripping down his
jaws like a bloody-jawed wolf, and still got the nerve to point his
finger at other countries. You canít even get civil rights
legislation. And this man has got the nerve to stand up and talk
So, I say in my conclusion the only way we're going to solve it Ė weíve got to unite in unity and harmony, and black nationalism is the key. How we gonna overcome the tendency to be at each others throats that always exists in our neighborhoods? And the reason this tendency exists, the strategy of the white man has always been divide and conquer. He keeps us divided in order to conquer us. He tells you Iím for separation and you for integration to keep us fighting with each other. No, Iím not for separation and youíre not for integration. What you and I is for is freedom. Only you think that integration would get you freedom, I think separation would get me freedom. We both got the same objective, we just got different ways of getting at it.
So I studied this man, Billy Graham, who preaches white nationalism, thatís what he preaches. I say thatís what he preaches. The whole church structure in this country is white nationalism. You go inside a white church thatís what they preaching is white nationalism. They got Jesus white, Mary white, God white, everybody white -- thatís white nationalism. So what he does -- the way he -- the way he -- the way he circumvents the -- the jealousy and envy that he ordinarily would incur among the heads of the church, wherever he go into an area where the church already is you going into trouble, 'cause they got that thing what you call it -- syndicated, they got a syndicate -- just like the rest of the Racketeers have. Iím going to say whatís on my mind 'cause the churches are, the preachers already proved to you that they got a syndicate.
And when you're out in the rackets, whenever you're getting in another manís territory, you know, they gang up on you. And thatís the same way with you -- you ran into the same thing. So how Billy Graham gets around that, instead of going into somebody elseís territory, like he going to start up a new church, he don't -- he doesnít try to start a church. He just goes in preaching Christ. And he says everybody who believe in Him, you go wherever -- you go wherever you find him. So this helps all the churches and since it helps all the churches they donít mind fight him.
Well, we gonna do the same thing, only our gospel s black nationalism; his gospel is white nationalism; our gospel is black nationalism. And the gospel of black nationalism, as I told you, means you should control you own, the politics of your community, the economy of your community, and all of the society in which you live should be under your control. And once you feel that this philosophy will solve your problem, go join any church where thatís preached. Donít join a church where white nationalism is preached. Now you can go to a Negro church and be exposed to white nationalism 'cause you are when you walk in a Negro church and a white Mary and some white angels -- that Negro church is preaching white nationalism. But when you go to a church and you see the pastor of that church with a philosophy and a program thatís designed to bring black people together and elevate black people -- join that church. Join that church. If you see where the NAACP is preaching and practicing that which is designed to make black nationalism materialize, join the NAACP. Join any kind of organization, civic, religious, fraternal, political, or otherwise thatís based on lifting the black man up and making him master of his own community.
Itíll be -- Itíll be the -- the ballot or itíll be the bullet. Itíll be liberty or itíll be death. And if youíre not ready to pay that price donít use the word freedom in your vocabulary.
One more thing: I was on a program in
I want to thank the Freedom Now Party and the goal. I want to thank Milton and Richard Henley for inviting me here this afternoon, and also Reverend Cleage. And I want them to know that anything that I can ever do, at any time, to work with anybody in any kind of program that is sincerely designed to eliminate the political, the economic, and the social evils that confront all of our people, in Detroit and elsewhere, all they got to do is give me a telephone call and Iíll be on the next jet right on into the city.