Remembering Malcolm X Today marks what would have been the 83rd birthday of Malcolm X, who died in 1965. Hear an excerpt of his 1964 speech "The Ballot or the Bullet."

Remembering Malcolm X

Remembering Malcolm X

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Today marks what would have been the 83rd birthday of Malcolm X, who died in 1965. Hear an excerpt of his 1964 speech "The Ballot or the Bullet."

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

And finally, today marks what would have been the 83rd birthday of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X. He was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam on February 21st, 1965, while delivering a speech in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom. Today we want to take a moment to revisit his life. Malcolm X left his mark on history as a prominent black Muslim minister, a leader in the fight for racial equality, and for some, a threat. His uncompromising call to fight racism by any means necessary still resonates with many African-Americans today. It was during a meeting of the Congress of Racial Equality in Cleveland in April 1964, that Malcolm X delivered perhaps his most famous speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet." It addressed the sharp racial divide and religious isolation of the time.

(Soundbite of "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech)

MALCOLM X: Today, this afternoon, it is not our intention to discuss religion. We're going to forget religion. Whether you are a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Nationalist, we all have the same problem. They don't hang you because you're a Baptist, they hang you because you're black. They don't attack me because I'm a Muslim, they attack me because I'm black. They attack all of us for the same reason. We suffer political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation, all of them from the same enemy. The government has failed us, you can't deny that. Anytime you live in the 20th century and you're walking around here singing "We Shall Overcome," the government has failed us.

CORLEY: That of course was a reference to the philosophy of non-violence practiced by the other leading civil rights activist of the time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In one of his final speeches, Malcolm X spoke out about violence against African-Americans and in contrast to Reverend King, he demanded the black community stand up and fight back.

(Soundbite of speech)

MALCOLM X: We should defend ourselves. And when I say we should defend ourselves against the violence of others, they use their press skillfully to make the world think that I'm calling on violence period, and I wouldn't call on anybody to be violent without a cause. But I think the black man in this country will be more justified when he stands up and starts to protect himself, no matter how many necks he has to break or heads he has to crack. Right now in New York, we had a couple cases where the police grabbed a brother and beat him unmercilessly, and then charged him with assaulting them. They used the press to make it look like he's the criminal and they're the victim. This is how they do it, and if you study how they do it here, then you'll know how they do it over here. It's the same game going all the time, and if you and I don't awaken and see what this man is doing to us, then it'll be too late.

CORLEY: That was Malcolm X at the Ford Auditorium just one week before he was assassinated. Today would have been his 83rd birthday.

That's our program for today. We've been broadcasting from Chicago Public Radio. I'm Cheryl Corley. This is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin will be back to talk more tomorrow.

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