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Controversial. Witty. Eloquent. These are some of the ways African-American activist and former Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X was described before and after his death in 1965. One of the reasons Malcolm X developed a reputation as a firebrand who intimidated whites and middle-of-the-road blacks is largely because of the provocative comments he made in interviews and speeches. While the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. earned praise and respect from the mainstream public by embracing Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence, Malcolm X struck fear in the heart of white America by maintaining that blacks had the right to defend themselves by any means necessary. In contrast, many African Americans appreciated Malcolm for discussing black love and black empowerment. Excerpts from his speeches reveal why Malcolm X surfaced as a leader that the public both feared and admired.
On Being an American
On April 3, 1964, Malcolm X gave a speech called the “Ballot or the Bullet” in which he urged blacks to overcome their class, religious and other differences to counter racial oppression. In the speech, Malcolm X also pointed out that he wasn't anti-white but anti-exploitation and that he didn't identify as a Republican, Democrat or an American.
He said, “Well, I am one who doesn't believe in deluding myself. I'm not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner, unless you eat some of what's on that plate. Being here in America doesn't make you an American. Being born here in America doesn't make you an American. Why, if birth made you American, you wouldn't need any legislation; you wouldn't need any amendments to the Constitution; you wouldn't be faced with civil-rights filibustering in Washington, D.C., right now.… No, I'm not an American. I'm one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism.”
By Any Means Necessary
In life and in death, Malcolm X has been accused of being a violence-loving militant. A speech he gave on June 28, 1964, to discuss the founding of the Organization of Afro-American Unity reveals otherwise. Rather than support wanton violence, Malcolm X supported self-defense.
He remarked, “The time for you and me to allow ourselves to be brutalized nonviolently is passé. Be nonviolent only with those who are nonviolent to you. And when you can bring me a nonviolent racist, bring me a nonviolent segregationist, then I'll get nonviolent.… If the United States government doesn't want you and me to get rifles, then take the rifles away from those racists. If they don't want you and me to use clubs, take the clubs away from the racists.”
During a visit to Michigan State University in 1963, Malcolm X delivered a speech discussing the differences between “field Negroes” and “house Negroes” during slavery. He painted the house Negro as content with his circumstances and subservient to his master, the field Negro's opposite.
Of the house Negro, he remarked, “His master's pain was his pain. And it hurt him more for his master to be sick than for him to be sick himself. When the house started burning down, that type of Negro would fight harder to put the master's house out than the master himself would. But then you had another Negro out in the field. The house Negro was in the minority. The masses-the field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority. When the master got sick, they prayed that he'd die. If his house caught on fire, they'd pray for a wind to come along and fan the breeze.”
Malcolm X said that while the house Negro would refuse to even entertain the thought of leaving his master, the field Negro jumped at the opportunity to be free. He said that in 20th century America, house Negroes still existed, only they're well dressed and speak well.
“And when you say, 'your army,' he says, 'our army,'” Malcolm X explained. “He hasn't got anybody to defend him, but anytime you say 'we' he says 'we.'… When you say you're in trouble, he says, 'Yes, we're in trouble.' But there's another kind of black man on the scene. If you say you're in trouble, he says, 'Yes, you're in trouble.' He doesn't identify himself with your plight whatsoever.”
On The Civil Rights Movement
Malcolm X gave a speech on Dec. 4, 1963, called “God's Judgment of White America.” In it he questioned the authenticity and effectiveness of the civil rights movement, arguing that whites were running the movement.
He said, “The Negro 'revolt' is controlled by the white man, the white fox. The Negro 'revolution' is controlled by this white government. The leaders of the Negro 'revolution' (the civil rights leaders) are all subsidized, influenced and controlled by the white liberals; and all of the demonstrations that are taking place on this country to desegregate lunch counters, theaters, public toilets, etc., are just artificial fires that have been ignited and fanned by the white liberals in the desperate hope that they can use this artificial revolution to fight off the real black revolution that has already swept white supremacy out of Africa, Asia, and is sweeping it out of Latin America… and is even now manifesting itself also right here among the black masses in this country.”
The Importance of Black History
In December 1962, Malcolm X gave a speech called “Black Man's History” in which he argued that black Americans aren't as successful as others because they don't know their history. He stated:
“There are black people in America who have mastered the mathematical sciences, have become professors and experts in physics, are able to toss sputniks out there in the atmosphere, out in space. They are masters in that field. We have black men who have mastered the field of medicine, we have black men who have mastered other fields, but very seldom do we have black men in America who have mastered the knowledge of the history of the black man himself. We have among our people those who are experts in every field, but seldom can you find one among us who is an expert on the history of the black man. And because of his lack of knowledge concerning the history of the black man, no matter how much he excels in the other sciences, he's always confined, he's always relegated to the same low rung of the ladder that the dumbest of our people are relegated to.”