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(17,394 posts)
Sat May 30, 2020, 10:05 PM May 2020

Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" Still Resonates in Today's Political Climate

The year's of Republican efforts aimed a voter suppression along with their celebration of police brutality brings to mind the words of Malcolm X. This is why Democrats need to make voter access a key issue in their platform, particularly as Republicans oppose efforts to ensure that voters can vote by mail in the midst of a pandemic.


Malcolm X, née Little, delivered this speech twice in 1964, first in Cleveland and then again days later in Detroit. One month earlier, he had left the Nation of Islam, which discouraged its members from working alongside civil-rights activists. America was being governed by Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, who took office following the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and was running for office touting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, would eventually give Black people unburdened access to the vote after a brutal, decades-long fight. Black Americans faced widespread political disenfranchisement and outright violence in their demand for voting rights. Just six months before Malcolm delivered his speech, four little Black girls were bombed to death in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Black activists believed that the segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, deserved some blame for the little girls’ deaths, as just one week before the bombing he told a New York Times reporter that the country needed “a few first-class funerals” suggesting that was the solution to stopping integration. At the time of Malcolm’s speech, George Wallace was running against Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic primary.

Malcolm’s speech conveyed the pain and rage the Black community was feeling, pairing it with an urgent warning that escalated the community's demand for enfranchisement. It wasn't just a request for justice; it was a call for revolution. “This is why I say it's the ballot or the bullet. It's liberty or it's death. It's freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody…. A revolution is bloody, but America is in a unique position. She's the only country in history in the position actually to become involved in a bloodless revolution…. All she's got to do is give the Black man in this country everything that's due him. Everything.”

In his speech, Malcolm continually stressed the importance of the 1964 election as the future of the Civil Rights Act hung in the balance between President Johnson, who eventually won the Democratic nomination, and Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate who opposed the legislation. For Black folks, the 2020 election is just as critical of a year as 1964 was, as preventing the reelection of Donald Trump and his continued dismantling of facets of that very same Civil Rights Act takes center stage.

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