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(1964) Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet”

By March 1964, Malcolm X had broken with the Nation of Islam.  In the speech below, given on April 3, 1964 in Cleveland, he explains his departure and his reason for establishing a separation between his religion and his politics.  He also makes clear that those politics are still rooted in black nationalism and that his opposition to the non-violent approach of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King is based on his belief that their efforts will delay and possibly deny forever complete black liberation.

Mr. Moderator, Brother Lomax, brothers and sisters, friends and enemies: I just cant believe everyone in here is a friend, and I dont want to leave anybody out. The question tonight, as I understand it, is The Negro Revolt, and Where Do We Go From Here? or What Next? In my little humble way of understanding it, it points toward either the ballot or the bullet.

Before we try and explain what is meant by the ballot or the bullet, I would like to clarify something concerning myself. Im still a Muslim; my religion is still Islam. Thats my personal belief. Just as Adam Clayton Powell is a Christian minister who heads the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, but at the same time takes part in the political struggles to try and bring about rights to the black people in this country; and Dr. Martin Luther King is a Christian minister down in Atlanta, Georgia, who heads another organization fighting for the civil rights of black people in this country; and Reverend Galamison, I guess youve heard of him, is another Christian minister in New York who has been deeply involved in the school boycotts to eliminate segregated education; well, I myself am a minister, not a Christian minister, but a Muslim minister; and I believe in action on all fronts by whatever means necessary.

Although Im still a Muslim, Im not here tonight to discuss my religion. Im not here to try and change your religion. Im not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because its time for us to submerge our

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