Review of “The Ballot or the Bullet”

Malcolm X was a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A militant leader of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm renounced his association with this movement and adopted many of the beliefs of the King and other prominent civil rights activists. In his speech at Cory Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, Malcolm expressed the importance of the 1964 elections and its impact on the civil rights of African-Americans.

First, Malcolm acknowledged that he was a Muslim. He knew that this could be a divisive issue so he quickly addressed the importance of unity. Malcolm attempted to give credibility to himself by putting himself in the company of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other prominent black civil rights leaders.1 Malcolm argued that his struggles were the same as the struggles of all African-Americans. He concluded this segment of his speech by telling his listeners, “if we have differences, let us differ in the closet; when we come out in front, let us not have anything to argue about until we get finished arguing with the man.”2

Malcolm held a view that is shared by many in modern-day America–that politicians are untrustworthy and dishonest. He held contempt for the Democrats in office; while they held overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and the presidency, they had refused to address any major civil rights issues. Malcolm even went as far as to accuse the politicians of conspiracy against the black people.3

Finally, Malcolm compared the ballot to a bullet in several ways. He stressed the importance of the elections of 1964 by implying the probable need to resort to “bullets” if things do not turn out favorably for blacks.4 Malcolm also compared the ballot to the bullet by arguing that an African-American should only cast his or her ballot for the individual that will truly represent him or her, much like a person lining up his or her target with a rifle. In fact, he even urged his listeners to withhold their vote unless they were absolutely sure of the person for which they were voting. Malcolm said, “If that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.”5

Malcolm concluded with a call for Black Nationalism. He argued that blacks should support blacks, especially when whites exclude blacks from nearly every area of the economic arena. He called for the re-education of blacks and for the black community to band together to remove many of the impeding vices.6


  1. Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon, Princeton Readings in Political Thought (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton Univ. Press, 1996), p. 636.
  2. Ibid, p. 637.
  3. Ibid, p. 639.
  4. Ibid, p. 637.
  5. Ibid, p. 641.
  6. Ibid.
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