Malcolm X: Message to the Grassroots
The following is an edited version of Malcolm X’s speech delivered Feb. 14, 1965, the day after his home was bombed in New York City. The speech given at the historic, now demolished Ford Auditorium, here in Detroit, was his last public speech. He was assassinated one week later on Feb. 21 as he began a presentation in Harlem. On May 19, Malcolm X would have turned 87 years old.
Attorney Milton Henry, distinguished guests, brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, friends and enemies:
I want to point out first that I am very happy to be here this evening and I’m thankful for the invitation to come here to Detroit this evening. I was in a house last night that was bombed, my own. It didn’t destroy all my clothes, not all, but you know what happens when fire dashes through — they get smoky. The only thing I could get my hands on before leaving was what I have on now.
Tonight, one of the things that has to be stressed is that which has not only the United States very much worried, but which also has France, Great Britain and most of the powers, who formerly were known as colonial powers, worried also, and that primarily is the African revolution. They are more concerned with the revolution that’s taking place on the African continent than they are with the revolution in Asia and in Latin America. And this is because there are so many people of African ancestry within the domestic confines or jurisdiction of these various governments.
Now, mind you, the power structure is international, and as such, its own domestic base is in London, Paris, Washington, D.C.
The newly awakened people all over the world pose a problem for what’s known as Western interests, which is imperialism, colonialism, racism and all these other negative … or vulturistic -isms. Just as the external forces pose a grave threat, they can now see the internal forces pose an even greater threat.
Just by advocating a coalition of Africans, Afro-Americans, Arabs and Asians who live within the structure, it automatically has upset France, which is supposed to be one of the most liberal — heh! —countries on earth, and it made them expose their hand. England the same way. And I don’t have to tell you about this country that we are living in now.
So, when you count the number of dark-skinned people in the Western Hemisphere, you can see that there are probably over 100 million … And this 100 million on the inside of the power structure today is what is causing a great deal of concern for the power structure itself.
So, we saw that the first thing to do was to unite our people; not only unite us internally, but we have to be united with our brothers and sisters abroad. It was for that purpose that I spent five months in the Middle East and Africa during the summer … I found a warm reception and an amazingly deep interest and sympathy for the Black man in this country in regards to our struggle for human rights.
I am very pleased to see so many who have come out to always see for yourself, where you can hear for yourself, and then think for yourself. Then you’ll be in a better position to make an intelligent judgment for yourself. But if you form the habit of listening to what others say about something or someone or reading what someone else has written about someone, somebody can confuse you and misuse you. So as Afro-Americans or Black people here in the Western Hemisphere, you and I have to learn to weigh things for ourselves.
And so, since I could see that America itself is a society where there is no brotherhood and that this society is controlled primarily by racists and segregationists — and it is — who are in Washington, D.C., in positions of power. They exercise the same forms of brutal oppression against dark-skinned people in South and North Vietnam, or in the Congo, or in Cuba, or in any other place on this earth where they’re trying to exploit and oppress.
That’s a shame. Because we get tricked into being nonviolent, and when somebody stands up and talks like I just did, they say, “Why, he’s advocating violence!” Every time you pick up your newspaper, you see where one of these things has written into it that I’m advocating violence. I have never advocated any violence. I’ve only said that Black people who are the victims of organized violence … should defend ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, if you and I would just realize that once we learn to talk the language that they understand, they will then get the point. You can’t ever reach a man if you don’t speak his language. If a man speaks the language of brute force, you can’t come to him with peace. Why, good night! He’ll break you in two, as he has been doing all along … You have to find out what does this man speak. And once you know his language, learn how to speak his language and he’ll get the point.
Since the federal government has shown that it isn’t going to do anything about (violence against Blacks) but talk, it is a duty, it’s your and my duty as men, as human beings, it is our duty to our people, to organize ourselves and let the government know that if they don’t stop that … we’ll stop it ourselves. And then you’ll see the government start doing something about it.
“Don’t struggle — only within the ground rules that the people you’re struggling against have laid down.” Why, this is insane. But it shows you how they can do it. With skillful manipulating of the press, they’re able to make the victim look like the criminal, and the criminal look like the victim.
One of the shrewd ways they use the press to project us in the … image of a criminal: they take statistics. And with the press they feed these statistics to the public, primarily the white public.
A very good example was the riots that took place here during the summer: I was in Africa, I read about them over there. If you’ll notice, they referred to the rioters as vandals, hoodlums, thieves. They skillfully took the burden off the society for its failure to correct these negative conditions in the Black community. It took the burden completely off the society and put it right on the community by using the press to make it appear that the looting and all of this was proof that the whole act was nothing but vandals and robbers and thieves, who weren’t really interested in anything other than that which was negative. And I hear many old, dumb, brainwashed Negroes who parrot the same old party line that the man handed down in his paper.
They use the press. That doesn’t mean that all reporters are bad. Some of them are good, I suppose. But you can take their collective approach to any problem and see that they can always agree when it gets to you and me. They knew were giving this affair — which is designed to honor outstanding Black Americans, is it not? You’d find nothing in the newspapers to give the slightest hint that this affair was going to take place. Not one hint.
Why? You see, you have many sources of news. If you don’t think that they’re in cahoots, watch! They’re all interested, or none of them are interested. It’s not a staggering thing. They’re not going to say anything in advance (about an event) that’s being given by any Black people who believe in functioning beyond the scope of the ground rules that are laid down by the “liberal” element of the power structure.
When you begin to start thinking for yourself, you frighten them, and they try and block your getting to the public, for fear that if the public listens to you, then the public won’t listen to them anymore. And they’ve got certain Negroes whom they have to keep blowing up in the papers to make them look like leaders. So that the people will keep on following them, no matter how many knocks they get on their heads following him. This is how the man does it, and if you don’t wake up and find out how he does it, I tell you, they’ll be building gas chambers and gas ovens pretty soon — I don’t mean those kind you’ve got at home in your kitchen.
You’re dealing with a cold, calculating international machine, that’s so criminal in its objectives and motives that it has the seeds of its own destruction, right within. They use the press.
So, now what effect does this have on us? Why should (Black people) in America concern (themselves) — since (they’ve) been away from the African continent for three or four hundred years … What impact does what happens to them have upon us? Number one, first you have to realize that up until 1959, Africa was dominated by the colonial powers. And by the colonial powers of Europe having complete control over Africa, they projected the image of Africa negatively. They projected Africa always in a negative light: jungles, savages, cannibals, nothing civilized. Why, then naturally it was so negative (that) it was negative to you and me, and you and I began to hate it. We didn’t want anybody telling us anything about Africa, much less calling us Africans. In hating Africa and in hating the Africans, we ended up hating ourselves without even realizing it, because you can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree. You can’t hate your origin (Africa) and not end up hating yourself.
And when we fell victims to this feeling of inadequacy or inferiority or helplessness, we turned to somebody else to show us the way. We didn’t have confidence in another Black man to show us the way, or Black people to show us the way … We didn’t think a Black man could do anything but play … some sounds and make you happy with some songs and in that way. But in serious things, where our food, clothing and shelter was concerned and our education was concerned, we turned to the man. We never thought in terms of bringing these things into existence for ourselves … because we felt helpless. What made us feel helpless was our hatred for ourselves. And our hatred for ourselves stemmed from our hatred of things African.
When the ball was passed to the United States, it was passed at the time when John Kennedy came into power. He picked it up and helped to run it. He was one of the shrewdest, backfield runners that history has ever recorded. He surrounded himself with intellectuals — highly educated, learned, and well-informed people. And their analysis told him that the government of America was confronted with a new problem. And this new problem stemmed from the fact that Africans were now awakened, they were enlightened and they were fearless; they would fight.
So this meant the Western powers couldn’t stay there by force. And since their own economies, the European economy and the American economy, was based upon their continued influence over the African continent, they had to find some means of staying there. So they used the “friendly” approach. They switched from the old, open colonial, imperialistic approach to the benevolent approach. They came up with some benevolent colonialism, philanthropic colonialism, humanitarianism, or dollarism. Immediately everything was Peace Corps, Crossroads, “We’ve got to help our African brothers.” Pick up on that. Can’t help us in Mississippi. Can’t help us in Alabama, or Detroit, out here in Dearborn.
They’re going to send all the way to Africa to help. I know Dearborn; you know, I’m from Detroit, I used to live out here in Inkster. And you had to go through Dearborn to get to Inkster. Just like driving through Mississippi when you go to Dearborn. Is it still that way? (From the audience: “Yes.”) Well, you should straighten it out.
Just because you’re in this country doesn’t make you an American. No, you’ve got to go farther than that before you can become an American. You’ve got to enjoy the fruits of Americanism.
You haven’t enjoyed those fruits. You’ve enjoyed the thorns … the thistles. You have fought harder for the fruits than the white man has. You have worked harder for the fruits than the white man has, but you’ve enjoyed less. When the man put the uniform on you and sent you abroad, you fought harder than they did. Yeah, I know you — when you’re fighting for them, you can fight.
The “Black Muslim” movement did make that contribution. They made the whole civil rights movement become … more acceptable to the white power structure. He would rather have them than us. In fact, I think we forced many of the civil rights leaders to be even more militant than they intended.
Kennedy’s new approach was pretending to go along with us in our struggle for civil rights and different other forms of rights. But I remember the expose that Look magazine did on Meredith’s situation in Mississippi. Look magazine did an expose showing that Robert Kennedy and … Governor Barnett had made a deal, wherein the attorney general was going to come down and try and force Meredith into school, and Barnett was going to stand at the door, you know, and say, “No, you can’t come in.” … But it was all arranged in advance … It was a cut-and-dried deal. And it’s not a secret; it was written. … But if that’s a deal … how many other deals do you think go down?
So in my conclusion, I would like to point out that the approach that was used by the administration right on up until today … was designed skillfully to make it appear that they were trying to solve the problem when they actually weren’t. They would deal with the conditions, but never the cause.
The masses of our people still have bad housing, bad schooling, and inferior jobs, jobs that don’t compensate with sufficient salary for them to carry on their life in this world. So that the problem for the masses has gone absolutely unsolved.
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, I spend my time out there in the street with … all kind of people, listening to what they have to say. And they’re dissatisfied, they’re disillusioned, they’re fed up … What do they have to lose? And when you get to that point you’re the type of person who can create a very dangerously explosive atmosphere. I read in a poll taken by Newsweek magazine, saying that Negroes are satisfied … Maybe I haven’t met the Negroes he met, because I know he hasn’t met the ones that I’ve met.
When they think that an explosive era is coming up, then they grab their press again and begin to shower the Negro public, to make it appear that all Negroes are satisfied. Because if you know that you’re dissatisfied all by yourself and 10 others aren’t, you play it cool; but you know if all 10 of you are dissatisfied, you get with it.
I point these things out, brothers and sisters, so that you and I will know the importance in 1963 of being in complete unity with each other … and not letting the man maneuver us into fighting one another.
I want to thank you for coming out … I think it’s wonderful that as many of you came out, considering the blackout on the meeting that took place. Also, (Milton Henry) and the brothers who are here in Detroit … I would advise all of you to get with them in every way that you can to try and create some kind of united effort toward common goals, common objectives.
Don’t let the power structure maneuver you into a time-wasting battle with others when you could be involved in something that’s constructive and getting a real job done.
Our internal aim is to become immediately involved in a mass voter registration drive. But we don’t believe in voter registration without voter education. We believe that our people should be educated into the science of politics, so that they will know what a vote is for, and what a vote is supposed to produce, and also how to utilize this united voting power so that you can control the politics of your own community, and the politicians that represent that community.
So we will join in with them in their voter registration and help to train brothers in the arts that are necessary in this day and age to enable one to continue his existence upon this earth …. Thank you.