A drawing of Malcolm X
Thomas Hawk/Flickr

In my last column, I reviewed some of the events in the life of Malcolm X that led up to his landmark speech “The Ballot or the Bullet.” In this issue, I will pick up the story where I left off, with the April 3, 1964 appearance of Malcolm X at Cory Methodist Church in Cleveland Ohio and the actual delivery of the speech.

His audience was a crowd of three thousand people, many of them white. Louis Lomax, Malcolm’s long-time colleague, opened the ceremonies and then turned the podium over to Malcolm X.

Malcolm X began by explaining his break from the Nation of Islam. He said he remained a Muslim and he stressed the importance of transcending religious differences.

These are his words on the subject: “You and I – as I say, if we bring up religion we’ll have differences; we’ll have arguments; and we’ll 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 that’s common to all of us against an enemy who is common to all of us.”

Discussing politics was forbidden by the Nation of Islam. His break from orthodoxy became evident when Malcolm rolled out his new plan for change. A philosophy evolved around community involvement in grassroots activism.
On politics, Malcolm said: “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 doesn’t have the good of our community at heart.”

He went on to add this: “We will have to carry on a program, a political program, of reeducation to open our peoples’ eyes, make us become more politically conscious, politically mature, and then 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 at heart.”

In terms of job creation, Malcolm X favored a market-based solution. He believed the best way to create jobs was for the people in the community to become job creators.

Here is what he had to say: “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 – you’re in bad shape.”

Malcolm X opposed public assistance; he saw it engendering a culture of dependency. He said self-help, in the form of black nationalism, was the key to getting off the plantation of government.

“We need a self-help program, a do-it-yourself philosophy, a do-it-right-now philosophy, a it’s-already-too-late philosophy. This is what you and I need to get with, and 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.”

In the next issue I will continue to explore important points made in “The Ballot or the Bullet.”