Malcolm X - The Ballot or the Bullet

Fifty years ago today, as he was preparing to deliver a speech to the Organization of Afro-American Unity in New York City, Malcolm X, the famous Muslim minister and human rights activist who made a name for himself in the struggle against social, racial, political and economic inequality in America, was gunned down and killed.

It's difficult to know exactly how his thoughts would have developed had he not been assassinated. As a member of the Nation of Islam, his philosophy was originally a condemnation of white supremacy, and it sought to empower black businesses and communities to attain the same economic power that whites had achieved. Over time, however, he slowly started to see racial inequality more as a function of the evils inherent in capitalism than as a purely racial question. In his fight for civil rights, he became more politically active and came to see the necessity of separating politics and religion, a move that led to his expulsion and renunciation from the Nation of Islam.

I agree with those who believe that Malcolm X (or Malik El-Shabazz, as he would rename himself after a pilgrimage to Mecca) was the greatest orator of his generation. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr., who, appropriately enough, sounds like a preacher, Malcolm X's thoughts may be less rhetorical, but for that same reason they are more fluid and less contrived, framed in such a way that they automatically dismantle most objections one can try to throw against them. As we contemplate the trajectory of civil rights, the progress that has been made so far, and how much further we still need to go, it is worthwhile to listen today to what is perhaps the best speech given by one of the best orators in history.

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