Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. His dream was that one day whites and blacks could live together in equality. King and his rhetoric of idealism are what come to mind for most people when they think about the civil rights movement, but there is another famous civil rights leader who had some very different ideas than King. Malcolm X was the leader of the more radical civil rights movement in the early 1960’s. Perhaps no speech better exemplifies X’s stance on civil rights than the “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech of 1964. This speech outlines X’s opinions on integration, African Americans’ role in government and the community, and how to bring about social change. The world was changing in the 1960’s, and it is important to remember that this change was not always as Dr. King’s rhetoric portrayed it, for every shard of light also casts a shadow. That shadow is Malcolm X and “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Biography
Before anything can be said about “The Ballot or the Bullet”, it is important to examine who Malcolm X was. X was born in 1925. His birth certificate reads Malcolm Little, but he would undergo a rebirth later in his life when he was sent to jail for burglary. While in jail, he completed his education and converted to Islam. This conversion would be the pivotal point in his life X became involved with the Nation of Islam, a rising Islamic group that focused on separatism rather than integration. X worked with the Nation of Islam until March 1964 when he broke away. This break was due to the revelation that the leader of the Nation of Islam had been having relations with six different women. This was in contrast to the teaching of the Nation of Islam, and X felt that he could not follow a false prophet. Historical Context
Now that the person behind “The Ballot or the Bullet” has been expanded upon, it is necessary to discuss the context under which this speech was given. The 1960’s was a period marked by civil unrest. The civil rights movement was at its peak and the nation was responding. There were acts of violence being committed all over the country against African Americans and those that supported civil rights. Birmingham, Alabama was a hotspot where multiple bombings took place and the hate was palpable. Despite the overwhelming hate welling up against African Americans in the 1960’s, Martin Luther King emerged with his rhetoric of nonviolence. While Malcolm X trained himself in the ways of Islam, King was preaching integration and nonviolent protest. King helped organize a march on Washington in 1963 to raise awareness about the civil rights issue in America. This was an attempt to push through Congress legislation on civil rights. However, by April of 1964 Congress had still not passed a civil rights bill and African Americans everywhere weren’t happy about this. The civil rights movement was becoming bureaucratized and many young people were not happy with speed of change. Their dissatisfaction with the Congress and the civil rights movement set the stage for “The Ballot or the Bullet.”
Malcolm X faced various rhetorical problems when giving his speech. His problems were largely due to purpose related obstacles. The first of these obstacles was the cost. African Americans were being jailed for protesting and often physically harmed as well. Also, even if African Americans protested and suffered the consequences, there was no guarantee that any change would occur. It was a long and hard road, and X had to convince African Americans that it would all be worth it. The second purpose related obstacle was control. African Americans questioned whether or not they could actually bring about social change. The inequality in America had existed since Africans had first been brought to the New World. African Americans questioned if they had the...