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What Does Mississippi Have to Do With Harlem? (1964)

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In fall 1964, after the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's delegates had been denied seats at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, Malcolm X delivered this speech.


...How can you and I be looked upon as men, with black women being beaten, and nothing being done about it? Black children and black babies being beaten, and nothing being done about it? No, we don't deserve to be recognized and respected as men, as long as our women can be brutalized... and nothing can be done about it except we sit around singing "We Shall Overcome."

...If they don't want to deal with the Freedom Democratic Party, then we'll give them something else to deal with. If they don't want to deal with the Student Nonviolent Committee, then we have to give them an alternative. Never stick someone out there without an alternative. We waste our time. Give them this or give them that. Give them the choice between this or that...

...We will never communicate talking one language and he's talking another language. He's talking the language of violence...Let's learn his language. If his language is with a shotgun, get a shotgun. If he only understands the language of a rifle, get a rifle. If he only understands the language of a rope, get a rope. But don't waste time talking the wrong language to a man, if you want to really communicate with him. Speak his language. And there's nothing wrong with that. If something was wrong with that language, the Federal government would have stopped the cracker from speaking it to you and me.

I might say, secondly, some people wonder well, what does Mississippi have to do with Harlem?... America is Mississippi. There's no such thing as a Mason-Dixon line. It's America. There's no such thing as the South. It's America. If one room in your house is dirty, you've got a dirty house. If the closet is dirty, you've got a dirty house. Don't say that that room is dirty but the rest of my house is clean. You're over the whole house. You have authority over the whole house. The entire house is under your jurisdiction. And the mistake that you and I make is letting these northern crackers shift the weight to these southern crackers.

Every senator from a state where our people are deprived of the right to vote, they're in Washington, D.C. illegally...

...Out of 36 [Congressional] committees that govern the foreign and domestic direction of this country, 23 are in the hands of southern racists. And the reason they're in the hands of southern racists is because the areas from which they come the black man is deprived of his right to vote. If we had the ballot in that area, those racists would not be in Washington, D.C. There'd be some black faces there. There'd be some brown and some yellow and some red faces there. there'd be some faces other than those cracker faces that are there right now. So what happens in Mississippi and the south has a direct bearing on what happens to you and me here in Harlem.

And likewise, out of the Democratic party, which black people supported -- recently, I think, something like 97 percent -- all of these crackers -- and that's what they are, crackers -- they belong to the Democratic party. That's the party they belong to. Same one you belong to. Same one you support. Same one you say is going to get you this, and get you that.

Why, the base of the Democratic party is in the South. The foundation of its authority is in the South. The head of the Democratic party is sitting in the White House. He could have gotten Mrs. Hamer in Atlantic City. He could have opened up his mouth and had her seated. Hubert Humphrey could have opened his mouth and had her seated. Wagner, the mayor, right here, could have opened up his mouth, and used his weight, and had her seated. Don't be talking about some crackers down in Mississippi, in Alabama, in Georgia. All of them are playing the same game. Lyndon B. Johnson is the head of the cracker party...

...These northern crackers are in cahoots with these southern crackers. Only these northern crackers smile in your face, and show you their teeth, then they stick the knife in your back when you turn around....

Wagner is a Democrat. He belongs to the same party as Eastland. Johnson is a Democrat. He belongs to the same party as Eastland. Now, Wagner was in Atlantic City... Lyndon B. Johnson was in Atlantic City. Hubert Humphrey was in Atlantic City. The crackers that you voted for were in Atlantic City. What did they do for you when you wanted to sit down? They were quiet. They were silent. They said don't rock the boat...

As Mrs. Hamer pointed out, the brothers and the sisters in Mississippi are being beaten and killed for no reason other than they want to be treated as first-class citizens. There's only one way to be a first-class citizen. There's only one way to be a first-class citizen. There's only one way to be independent. There's only one way to be free. It's not something that someone gives to you. It's something that you take... If you can't take it you don't deserve it. Nobody can give it to you...

We obey the law... But at the same time, at any moment that you and I are involved in any kind of action that is legal, that is in accord with our civil rights, in accord with the courts of this land, in accord with the Constitution, when all of these things are on our side and we still can't get it...

We have to let the people in Mississippi as well as New York and elsewhere know, that freedom comes to us either by ballot, or by bullet. That's the only way freedom is gotten. Freedom is gotten by ballot, or bullet. These are the only two avenues, the only two roads, the only two methods or means, either ballot or bullet. When you know that, then you are careful how you use the word freedom...

They've always said that I'm anti-white. I'm for anybody who's for freedom. I'm for anybody who's for freedom. I'm for anybody who's for justice. I'm for anybody who's for equality. I'm not for anybody who tells me to sit around and wait for mine. I'm not for anybody who tells me to turn the other cheek when a cracker is busting up my jaw. I'm not for anybody who tells black people to be nonviolent while nobody is telling white people to be nonviolent...

Source: Malcolm X, speech at Harlem Rally, 1964.
Audio file available at: http://www.brothermalcolm.net/mxwords/whathesaidarchive.html

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