There are few figures in the black freedom struggle as dynamic and complex as Malcolm X who would have celebrated his 86th birthday if he were still alive today. Dr. Manning Marable recently released book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, has helped spark new debate and renewed popular interest in this iconoclastic and central figure of the civil rights era.
Before his life was taken by the bullets of assassins, some of whom may have never been brought to justice for their crimes, Malcolm X was on a breathtaking journey building new organizations and planting the seeds of a global Pan-African movement to help address the crisis faced by blacks in urban America. Dr. Marable’s new work methodically peels back the layers and helps shed light on the real Malcolm X, who, though imperfect and flawed as the rest of us, was steadily undergoing personal transformation and evolving politically. But just as powerful as his actions were his words which struck chords, ignited debates and roused audiences all over the globe.
Here, theGrio presents Malcolm X’s top ten most provocative and powerful quotes:
If you’re not ready to die for it, take the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.
— Chicago Defender (November 28, 1962)
We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.
— Founding Rally Speech, OAAU (June 28, 1964)
I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do. And that’s the way every Negro should get. Any time you know you’re within the law, within your legal rights, within your moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for what you believe in. But don’t die alone. Let your dying be reciprocal. This is what is meant by equality. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
— Speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet”, Cory Methodist Church, Cleveland, Ohio (April 3, 1964)
I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin.
— Speech (January 19, 1965)There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.
— Speech, “Message to the Grass Roots”, Detroit Michigan (November 1963)
At the bottom of the social heap is the black man in the big-city ghetto. He lives night and day with the rats and the cockroaches and drowns himself with alcohol and anesthetizes himself with dope, to try and forget where and what he is. That Negro has given up all hope. He’s the hardest one for us to reach, because he’s the deepest in the mud. But when you get him, you’ve got the best kind of Muslim. I look upon myself as a prime example of this category – as graphic an example as you could find of the salvation of the black man.
— Interview, Playboy magazine (May 1963)
It was, as I saw it, a case of ‘the chickens coming home to roost.’ I said that the hate in white men had not stopped with the killing of defenseless black people, but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked, had finally struck down this country’s Chief Magistrate.
— On the assassination of John F Kennedy
We don’t judge a man because of the color of his skin. We don’t judge you because you’re white; we don’t judge you because you’re black; we don’t judge you because you’re brown. We judge you because of what you do and what you practice. And as long as you practice evil, we’re against you.
— Speech, Not an American Problem, a World Problem (February 16, 1965)
For 12 long years I lived within the narrow minded confines of the “straightjacket world” created by my strong belief that Elijah Muhammad was a messenger direct from God Himself, and my faith in what I now see to be a pseudo-religious philosophy that he preaches. . . . I shall never rest until I have undone the harm I did to so many well-meaning, innocent Negroes who through my own evangelistic zeal now believe in him even more fanatically and more blindly than I did.
— In a letter from Mecca to a friend on breaking with the Nation of Islam (October 4,1964)
It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.
— Speech delivered two days before he was assassinated (February 19, 1965)