The Civil Rights Movement : Malcolm X Essay

The Civil Rights Movement : Malcolm X Essay

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The historiography of the civil rights movement is often told in a simple dichotomy where prominent civil rights figures are divided on the theory and practice of non-violence versus the practice of active self-defense. The most vocal and perhaps the most famous individual synonymous with that of self-defense is that of Malcolm X. In Malcolm’s dedication to that of black liberation through self-defense, his most articulate writing regarding this issue is found in his now famous “Ballot or the Bullet” speech. Hence, this essay will critically analyze and summarize the main ideas and points that Malcolm X makes within the “Ballot or the Bullet” speech.
Born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X led a life dedicated to the service and enfranchisement of African-Americans. Some of Malcolm’s most notable contributions to achieve the aims of the civil rights movement came through his involvement with the Nation of Islam where he gained a large almost cult like following from its members. Yet, shortly before his now infamous “Ballot or the Bullet” speech, Malcolm X announced his separation from the NOI, as he felt that NOI’s policy forbidding one from entering the political process would be largely in-effective when trying to fight the entrenched institutional racism at the federal and local level.
The “Ballot or the Bullet” speech is the first public speech that Malcolm X gave after his separation with the Nation of Islam, and primarily focuses on a litany of distinct topics: the tenants of Black Nationalism, the importance of the ballot for black people, the ineffectiveness of the government currently, and African-American’s need to defend themselves. Malcolm begins the speech by elucidating the need for Afr...


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... to unite to form a concentrated and deliberate attack on the structures of white supremacy and the political institutions that perpetuate and ultimately preserve them.
In sum, Malcolm’s “The Ballot or The Bullet” speech explicitly articulates and foreshadows the revolutionary turning point for the movement as it effectively details the festering frustrations and plights of African-Americans at the height of the Civil Rights Movement regarding the ineffectiveness of government and their leaders’ ability to procure rights that would make their lives more livable. In doing so, it also perfectly articulates the evolving political ideology within the movement as well, where we see the enunciation and buy-in of largely separatist ideologies of black nationalism as opposed to that of integration exposed by the leaders and organization of the early civil rights movement.

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