"The Bullet or the Ballot"
by Malcolm X
Speech delivered in Detroit, April 4, 1964
By ballot I only mean freedom. Don't you know I disagree with Lomax
on this issue that the ballot is much more important than the dollar? Can
I prove it? Yes. Look in the UN. There are poor nations in the UN; yet those
poor nations can get together with their voting power and keep the rich nations
from making a move. They have one nation one vote, everyone has an equal
vote. And when those brothers from Asia, and Africa and the darker parts of this
earth get together, their voting power is sufficient to hold Sam in check. Or
Russia in check. Or some other section of the earth in check. So the ballot is
The political philosophy of black nationalism means that the black man should
control the politics and the politicians in his own community; no more. The black
man in the black community has to be re-educated into the science of politics
so he will know what politics is supposed to bring him in return. Don't
be throwing out any ballots. A ballot is like a bullet. You don't throw
your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach,
keep your ballot in your pocket. The political philosophy of black nationalism
is being taught in the Christian church. It's being taught in the NAACP.
It's being taught in CORE meetings. It's being taught in SNCC meetings.
It's being taught in Muslim meetings. It's being taught where nothing
but atheists and agnostics come together. It's being taught everywhere.
Black people are fed up with the dillydallying, pussyfooting, compromising approach
that we've been using toward getting our freedom. We want freedom now,
but we're not going to get it saying "We Shall Overcome." We've
got to fight until we overcome...
Our gospel is black nationalism. We're not trying to threaten the existence
of any organization, but we're spreading the gospel of black nationalism.
Anywhere there's a church that is also preach and practicing the gospel
of black nationalism, join that church. If the NAACP is preaching and practicing
the gospel of black nationalism, join the NAACP. If CORE is spreading and practicing
the gospel of black nationalism, join CORE. Join any organization that has a
gospel that's for the uplift of the black man. And when you get into it
and see them pussyfooting or compromising, pull out of it because that's
not black nationalism. We'll find another one.
And in this manner, the organizations will increase in number and in quantity
and in quality, and by August, it is then our intention to have a black nationalist
convention which will consist of delegates from all over the country who are
interested in the political, economic and social philosophy of black nationalism.
After these delegates convene, we will hold a seminar, we will hold discussions,
we will listen to everyone. We want to hear new ideas and new solutions and new
answers. And at that time, if we see then to form a black nationalist party,
we'll form a black nationalist party, we'll form a black nationalist
party. If it's necessary to form a black nationalist army, we'll
form a black nationalist army.
It'll be the ballot or the bullet. It'll be liberty or it'll be death.
Malcolm X's Audubon address, © Dr. Betty Shabazz, under license authorized by Curtis Management Group, Indianapolis, IA.