Malcolm X is sometimes touted as the other face of the civil rights movement, but the less peaceful one.
Although he never called for violence, he did advocate for self-defense and justice in the face of brutality. While peaceful protests are widely considered the driving force behind the success of the civil rights movement, it was also X's militant stance that made lawmakers decide to embrace Black rights via a nonviolent route. X's work, that once struck fear in mid-American hearts, is now respected worldwide.
It's important to remember X's words as powerful demands for dignified treatment and self-respect. Here are 7 of his best quotes:
1. “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.” – A Declaration of Independence, 1964
It's impossible to have an accurate count of how many Black Americans lost their lives to violence with no repercussions. Only the famous cases or martyrs will ever be known for sure. In a time where churches were being bombed frequently, X's calls for self-defense were considered radical.
2. “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
A quote that's become popular, X always was a fierce advocate for his sisters. More so than many male advocates at the time, he wasn't afraid to announce how important Black women and their protection should be. Sadly, many would agree that this quote still applies today. Brother Malcolm, indeed.
3. “It’s liberty or it's death. It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.” – "The Ballot or the Bullet," 1964
With "Give me liberty or give me death," many Black people had only found themselves coming up with the latter. X encouraged all citizens that freedom for all was a god-given right and a constitutional endowment. As you go about your day, remember those who put down their lives in the fight for your freedoms at home.
4. "I believe in the brotherhood of all men, but I don't believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn't want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street." New York City, 1964
An important reminder in valuing self-worth and engaging in relationships.
5. "We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary." – 1964
Malcolm X's signature mantra, "by any means necessary," is more completely attached to the demand for respect and human decency. This quote struck fear into the hearts of the racist establishment, and, while this quote is often coupled with a picture of him holding a machine gun, he actually said it in front of a mic — his weapon of choice. What means would you go through to simply be respected as a human being?
6."The young whites, and blacks, too, are the only hope that America has, the rest of us have always been living in a lie." The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965
Even with what was believed to be a militant style, Malcolm X really only wanted equality. Like King, he saw that the only hope for America was the young people within it. He isn't known for expressing his desire through an "I have a dream" speech, but he did want peaceful and unified coexistence.
7."People don't realize how a man's whole life can be changed by one book."The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965
There's a great narration by Ossie Davis at the end of Spike Lee's 1992 powerhouse Malcolm X. It was from X's eulogy delivered in 1965: "Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him."
We may have never got meet him, but the words and work he left classify him as one of the most sincere and honest leaders America has ever seen.