Malcolm X walked the Earth for just under 40 years, but his impact is felt to this day and likely will be felt forever.
The activist, born May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Neb., is often mentioned alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when reflecting on the great Black men who fought for Civil Rights, and, more specifically, their people’s rights throughout history. They have inspired fearless leaders for generations upon generations due to their pride in who they were and their advocacy for those who would follow in their footsteps.
The minister is often remembered for his “by any means necessary” mindset, which he lived to the fullest. While his approach was far different than MLK’s peaceful disposition, they shared the same motivation: freedom and equality. Malcolm Little sought to create a better life for Black people and the Nation Of Islam. Great leaders who stand firm in their beliefs are often polarizing, and his methods turned some people away and were what ultimately led to his untimely assassination. People recognized his power.
As we celebrate what would have been his 98th birthday, join VIBE in remembering some of his most powerful quotes that ring true to this day.
Patience, Understanding, And Remembrance
“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
When one gains knowledge, there is often the urge to turn their nose up to those who don’t possess the same information. People can be quick to forget a time when they were ignorant, to no fault of their own. Malcolm X advocated for putting more effort into educating than subjugating. Learning starts with not knowing. It is counterproductive to judge those who may not have access to the knowledge that one can easily share with them, as opposed to ridiculing them.
All For One, One For All
“A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”
It goes without saying, Malcolm X was heavy on those seeking freedom and equality to lift themselves up. There weren’t any handouts during the Civil Rights movement and in order for the message to be clear, everyone needed to move as one. A unified body could achieve more than people acting on their individual interests. It is a lot easier to hold back one person than it is a group of people. Especially when those people were motivated by the struggles their ancestors faced and the better days they sought for their descendants.
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
This quote came from a speech Malcolm X made in January 1965 in New York City titled “Prospects For Freedom.” The logic is sound. How can one possibly feel at peace without the ability to do whatever they would like to? Surely none of the slaves felt at peace, hence why many of them attempted to escape even if they were given a meal and somewhere to lay their heads.
While the world was far removed from the slave days during the Civil Rights movement, a lot of the same treatment and mindsets persisted. That is why Malcolm X operated the way he did; he wanted peace, but first came freedom and that was going to be attained by any means necessary.
The Tougher Alternative
“I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.”
This quote came from a conversation Malcolm X had with Coretta Scott King. As stated in the introduction, his methods differed vastly from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s. While his intent in coming to Selma could have been seen as disruptive, his perspective on the matter was sound. Dr. King was peaceful in all of his efforts. Malcolm X was willing to gain peace “by any means necessary,” which could spell chaos for the white people in power. Thus, perhaps they ought to have given Dr. King a chance and hear him out.
A Gentle Pour
“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.”
Malcolm X made this speech, titled “Message To The Grass Roots,” in Detroit in 1963. There’s two ways to look at this quote. One, on an individual level, people’s efforts toward pursuing their freedom. Obviously, he was willing to do whatever, and he wanted to show his people what could come from them softening their approach a bit too much. Sure, it could be good to be easier to work with, but hold back too much and they could eventually get taken advantage of.
On a larger scale, it addressed working with white people at the time. Ultimately, they held the power and could decide to make Black people’s lives easier so, in theory, working with them would be advantageous. However, if one were to let them in too close, and perhaps even get brainwashed, he or she could lose sight of themselves and their purpose. The Black culture was and is the inspiration for a lot. Throughout history, outsiders have come in and tainted it. Malcolm X was all for preservation, no matter what.
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
In modern colloquial terms, is he wrong though? Malcolm X had the vision early on. Coincidentally, this is a media member reflecting on his accurate undressing of the industry, but the truth only comes off as hate to people who hate the truth. The media has elevated certain people and stories while trying to downplay others. People don’t necessarily make the effort to read and inform themselves when the media brings all of the knowledge they think they need to their doorsteps. That is when framing, agenda-pushing, and various other harmful activities can take place.
It may not play out in real-time or even publicly, but the media is more powerful than people could even imagine. It was true in the 1960’s and it may be even truer today.
More Than A Seat
“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.”
Malcolm X made this speech, titled “The Ballot Or The Bullet,” in Cleveland, Ohio in 1964. Having “a seat at the table” is a commonly used metaphor today, and was evidently on people’s minds back in the ’60s. The legendary activist recognized that being present wasn’t enough; Black people needed to be able to make an impact or have leverage. What good is attending a dinner if you can’t partake in the food? America was called the land of opportunity, but it wasn’t that for everyone.
Black people were seen as less than Americans, still bound by the 3/5ths Compromise from centuries prior. For Malcolm, it was important for people to realize that being in those rooms wasn’t enough. They needed to have a voice and be heard.
“Truth is on the side of the oppressed.”
Winners get to tell the story. Even after the Civil Rights Movement was over, and Black people gained some semblance of equal rights, they were silenced. History books in schools would barely touch on what took place in the 1960s, despite many people who were there having plenty to share about how they were treated. The truth, unfortunately, has not mattered throughout history when the people who can tell it don’t have the power to do so.
Though the fight carries on to this day, Black people can take pride in knowing who they are, where they came from, and where they are going, no matter how someone else tries to portray their narrative. That, in large part, is thanks to the work of Malcolm X.
Rest in peace and Happy Birthday.