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2003-05-19

"The Ballot or the Bullet. It’s Liberty or Death. It’s Freedom for Everybody or Freedom for Nobody": Malcolm X Would Have Been 78 Years Old Today.

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We’ll hear his famous speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet" recorded in Detroit in 1964 a year before he was assassinated.

On this day in 1925, Malcolm X was born. He would have been 78 years old today.

Malcolm X would have had something to say about Alberta Spruill’s death.

It was his response to police brutality that first brought the Nation of Islam to the public eye.

On April 4th,1958, New York police beat two Black Muslims. Johnson X received a savage blow to the head and was taken to the police precinct.

Within an hour, dozens of young Black Muslims arrived outside the precinct in neat formation. Malcolm asked to see Johnson X. Police told him that he wasn’t there. Then, they admitted he was there, but said that Malcolm couldn’t see him.

Malcolm pointed to the rows of Black Muslims outside, who had been joined by a large number of residents. He said they men would remain outside the precinct until they could be reassured that their brother had received medical attention.

Police relented and, on Malcolm’s instruction, Hinton was moved to Harlem Hospital. Only then did Malcolm order the Muslims to disperse.

The police captain said: "No man should have this much power over that many people. We cannot control this town if one man can wield that kind of power."

Later, commentators said Malcolm was the only black man in America: "who could stop a race riot–or start one."

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska.

His mother, Louise Norton Little, raised the family’s eight children. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.

His father was targeted by the KKK. His family was driven from their home in Nebraska and their first home in Lansing, Michigan was burned to the ground. When Malcolm was just six years old, his father’s body was found beaten to a pulp.

Malcolm excelled in school and graduated from junior high at the top of his class. But he lost interest in school when his favorite teacher told him his idea of becoming a lawyer was "no realistic goal for a nigger."

He dropped out, and eventually wound up in Harlem, New York, where he became a drug dealer and a thief. At the age of 20, he was caught and sentenced to several years in prison for robbery.

In prison, Malcolm renewed his studies and found the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam.

By the time he got out of prison, Malcolm had converted to Islam and changed his name. He considered "Little" a slave name and chose the surname "X" to symbolize his lost African name.

Malcolm was appointed a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He established new mosques in Detroit, Michigan Harlem, and other cities. He was largely credited with increasing the Nation of Islam’s membership from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.

As Malcolm X’s fame began to supersede Elijah Muhammad’s, tensions grew within the Nation of Islam. FBI agents infiltrated the organization. Shortly after learning Elijah Muhammad was betraying his own teachings and having affairs with several women, Malcolm X split with the Nation of Islam. He founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

Malcolm X was shot to death on February 21, 1965 by Black Muslims. Many believe the FBI helped to foment the tensions between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.

  • Malcolm X, speaking in Detroit in 1964. This speech is known as 'The Ballot or the Bullet.'

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