1964 April 3

Malcolm X Gives “The Ballot or the Bullet” Speech in Cleveland


In a speech in Cleveland, African-American leader Malcolm X gave a prophetic warning that 1964 might be the “most explosive year” in American race relations. His comments were extremely prophetic. In fact, riots erupted in New York City, Philadelphia and other cities just three months later and continued for the next three summers (the so-called “long hot summers”).

The African-American author James Baldwin wrote a book in 1963, The Fire Next Time, which like Malcolm X’s speech prophetically anticipated the riots of the 1960s. White leaders in the U.S. did not heed their warnings, and in fact generally condemned both for racial rabble-rousing. On Baldwin, see his birth on August 2, 1924.

The Kerner Commission report analyzing the riots and recommending actions to solve the race problem in America was issued  on February 29, 1968. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

Malcolm X: “If we don’t do something real soon, I think you’ll have to agree that we’re going to be forced either to use the ballot or the bullet. It’s one or the other in 1964. It isn’t that time is running out—time has run out! . . . 1964 threatens to be the most explosive year America has ever witnessed. The most explosive year.”

Hear the speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9BVEnEsn6Y

Read: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011)

Read Malcolm X’s FBI file: http://vault.fbi.gov/Malcolm%20X

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