The Ballot or the Bullet

by Malcolm X

"If it’s necessary to form a Black Nationalist army, we’ll form a Black Nationalist army. It’ll be ballot or the bullet. It’ll be liberty or it’ll be death."

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Link to the official transcript:

Malcolm X gave his speech "The Ballot or the Bullet" at a meeting of the Congress of Racial Equality at the Cory Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio on April 3, 1964. The Congress of Racial Equality was an organization dedicated to fighting for the civil rights and equality of African-Americans in American society. Malcolm X wanted to persuade those who were fighting for equality to join him in creating the Black Nationalist Party that would run for the next election. He figured that if the supporters of the Civil Rights Movement were able to vote for this party in the election, they would have a shot at winning the presidential position and effectively creating the changes that needed to be done in order to ensure equality for African-Americans in American society.


Malcolm X's speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet", was an iconic part of the Civil Rights Movement as it marked a time in which people were starting to lose faith in the progress and success of the movement and provided an outlet for the more radical civil rights supporters that were influenced by "Black Nationalism". However, a few months after his speech, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress, which banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Discrimination still exists today, but Malcolm X's speech helped contribute to the passing of this act, which was a crucial achievement of the Civil Rights Movement in their fight for the rights of African-Americans in American society.



  • It shows that the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King, Jr. were not working, so he wanted to take more of an aggressive approach towards fighting for the rights of African Americans through the Black Nationalist Party, which was based on the rise of "Black Nationalism".



  • An audio clip of this speech was unavailable, but I would imagine that when he said this quote he delivered it using influential pacing, intonation, or gesture.
  • Pacing: relatively fast-paced as he was passionate about fighting for the rights of African-Americans
  • Intonation: voice lowered at "necessary" and there would be a slight pause to provide emphasis on the fact that there is no other option than to form the Black Nationalist Party
  • Gesture: probably a stoic face and relatively minimal hand gestures, so as to show the seriousness of what he is proposing


"It'll be liberty or it'll be death"

  • This is the "call to action" part that really makes a person think about what their options have come down to and whether the peaceful demonstrations of Martin Luther King, Jr. would actually work, or if they should join Malcolm X in the creation of the Black Nationalist Party and fight more aggressively for African-American rights.


"It'll be.."

  • Malcolm X uses repetition when he states, "It'll be ballot or the bullet. It'll be liberty or it'll be death". This repetition makes it clear to the reader that if they form the Black Nationalist Party and run for election, they can achieve liberty, but if they do not support the Black Nationalist Party, deadly events such as Birmingham and Selma will only continue to increase.


X, Malcolm. “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Congress of Racial Equality. Cory Methodist Church, Cleveland. 3 Apr. 1964. Print. Speech transcript.