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On Malcolm X’s 79th Birthday, Hear His Speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”

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Malcolm X was born 79 years ago today. He was shot to death in 1965 at the age of 39. We hear an excerpt of a speech he gave in Detroit just a year before he was gunned down. It is known as 'The Ballot or the Bullet.' [includes rush transcript]

On this day in 1925, Malcolm X was born. He would have been 79 years old today.

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. The speech is known as 'The Ballot or the Bullet.'

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

MALCOLM X: America is just as much a colonial power as England ever was. America is just as much a colonial power as France ever was. And in fact, America is more so of a colonial power than they, because she’s a hypocritical colonial power. What do you call second-class citizenship? Why, that’s colonization. Second class citizenship is nothing but 20th century slavery. How you are going to tell me that you are a second-class citizen. They don’t have second-class citizenship than any other government on this earth. They have slaves and people who are free. This country is a hypocrite. They claim they set you free by calling you a second-class citizen. No, you are nothing but a 20th century slave. Just as they took nationalism to remove colonialism from Asia and Africa, it will take Black Nationalism today to remove colonialism from the backs and the minds of the 22 million African-Americans here in this country.

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Malcolm X’s Daughter Ilyasah Shabazz on Her Father’s Legacy & the New Series “Who Killed Malcolm X?”

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