Malcolm X at Harvard University (March 18, 1964)

Malcolm X at Harvard University (March 18, 1964)

Nineteen hundred sixty-four will probably be the most explosive year that America has yet witnessed on the racial front; primarily because the black people of this country during 1963 saw nothing but failure behind every effort they made to get what the country was supposedly on record for. Today the black people in this country have become frustrated, disenchanted, disillusioned and probably more set for action now than ever before-not the kind of action that has been set out for them in the past by some of their supposedly liberal white friends, but the kind of action that will get some kind of immediate results. As the moderator has pointed out, the time that we’re living in now and that we are facing now is not an era where one who is oppressed is looking toward the oppressor to give him some system or form of logic or reason. What is logical to the oppressor isn’t logical to the oppressed. And what is reason to the oppressor isn’t reason to the oppressed. The black people in this country are beginning to realize that what sounds reasonable to those who exploit us doesn’t sound reasonable to us. There just has to be a new system of reason and logic devised by us who are at the bottom, if we want to get some results in this struggle that is called “the Negro revolution.”

Not only is it going to be an explosive year on the racial front; it is going to be an explosive year on the political front. This year it will be impossible to separate one from the other. The politicking of the politicians in 1964 will probably do more to bring about racial explosion than any other factor, because this country has been under the rule of the politicians. When they want to get elected to office they come into the so-called Negro community and make a lot of promises that they don’t intend to keep. This feeds the hopes of the people in our community, and after the politicians have gotten what they are looking for, they turn their back on the people of our community. This has happened time and time again. The only difference between then and now is that there is a different element in the community; whereas in the past the people of our community were patient and polite, long-suffering and willing to listen to what you call reason, 1964 has produced an element of people who are no longer willing to listen to what you call reason. As I said, what’s reasonable to you has long since ceased to be reasonable to us. And it will be these false promises made by the politicians that will bring about the BOOM.

During the few moments that I have I hope that we can chat in an informal way, because I find that when you are discussing things that are very “touchy,” sometimes it’s best to be informal. And where white people are concerned, it has been my experience that they are extremely intelligent on most subjects until it comes to race. When you get to the racial issue in this country, the whites lose all their intelligence. They become very subjective, and they want to tell us how it should be solved. It’s like Jesse James going to tell the Marshal how he should come after him for the crime that Jesse committed.

I am not a politician. I’m not even a student of politics. I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I don’t even consider myself an American. If I could consider myself an American, we wouldn’t even have any problem. It would be solved. Many of you get indignant when you hear a black man stand up and say, “No, I’m not an American.” I see whites who have the audacity, I should say the nerve, to think that a black man is radical and extremist, subversive and seditious if he says, “No, I’m not an American.” But at the same time, these same whites have to admit that this man has a problem.

I don’t come here tonight to speak to you as a Democrat or a Republican or an American or anything that you want me to be. I’m speaking as what I am: one of twenty-two million black people in this country who are victims of your democratic system. They’re the victims of the Democratic politicians, the victims of the Republican politicians. They’re actually the victims of what you call democracy. So I stand here tonight speaking as a victim of what you call democracy. And you can understand what I’m saying if you realize it’s being said through the mouth of a victim; the mouth of one of the oppressed, not through the mouth and eyes of the oppressor. But if you think we’re sitting in the same chair or standing on the same platform, then you won’t understand what I’m talking about. You’d expect me to stand up here and say what you would· say if you were standing up here. And I’d have to be out of my mind.

Whenever one is viewing this political system through the eyes of a victim, he sees something different. But today these twenty-two million black people who are the victims of American democracy, whether you realize it or not, are viewing your democracy with new eyes. Yesterday our people used to look upon the American system as an American dream. But the black people today are beginning to realize that it is an American nightmare. What is a dream to you is a nightmare to us. What is hope to you has long since become hopeless to our people. And as this attitude develops, not so much on Sugar Hill—although it’s there too—but in the ghetto, in the alley where the masses of our people live…there you have a new situation on your hands. There’s a new political consciousness developing among our people in this country. In the past, we weren’t conscious of the political maneuvering that goes on in this country, which exploits our people politically. We knew something was wrong, but we weren’t conscious of what it was. Today there’s a tendency on the part of this new generation of black people (who have been born and are growing up in this country) to look at the thing not as they wish it were, but as it actually is. And their ability to look at the situation as it is, is what is primarily responsible for the ever-increasing sense of frustration and hopelessness that exists in the so-called Negro community today.

Besides becoming politically conscious, you’ll find that our people are also becoming more aware of the strategic position that they occupy politically. In the past, they weren’t. Just the right to vote was considered something. But today the so-called Negroes are beginning to realize that they occupy a very strategic position. They realize what the new trends are and all of the new political tendencies.

During recent years at election time, when the Governor was running for office, there was call for a recount of votes here in Massachusetts. In Rhode Island it was the same way-in Minnesota, the same thing. Within American politics there is now such a similarity between the two parties that in elections the race is usually close enough to permit almost any single block to swing it one way or the other. Not only is this true in city, county, and state elections, but it’s also true in the national elections, as witness the close race between President Kennedy and Nixon a few years back. And everyone admits that it was the strategic vote of the so-called Negro in this country that put the Kennedy administration in Washington. The position in the political structure of the so-called Negro has become so strategic that whenever any kind of election rolls around now, the politicians are out there trying to win the Negro vote. In trying to win the Negro vote, they make a whole lot of promises and build up his hopes. But they always build him up for a letdown. By being constantly built up for a letdown, the Negro is now becoming very angry at the white man. And in his anger the Muslims come along and talk to him. Yet instead of the white man blaming himself for the anger of the Negro, he again has the audacity to blame us. When we warn you how angry the Negro is becoming, you, instead of thanking us for giving you a little warning, try to accuse us of stirring up the Negro. Don’t you know that if your house is on fire and I come to warn you that your house is burning, you shouldn’t accuse me of setting the fire! Thank me rather for letting you know what’s happening, or what’s going to happen, before it’s too late.

When these new trends develop in the so-called Negro in America, making the so-called Negro aware of his strategic position politically, he becomes aware too of what he’s not getting in return. He realizes that his vote puts the governor in office, or the mayor in office, or the president in office. But he’s beginning to see also that although his vote is the vital factor that determines who will sit in these seats, the last one those politicians try to help is the so-called Negro.

Proof of which: Everyone admits that it was the Negro vote that put Kennedy in the White House. Yet four years have passed and the present administration is just now getting around to civil rights legislation. In its fourth year of office it finally passes some kind of civil rights legislation, designed supposedly to solve the problem of the so-called Negro. Yet that voting element offered decisive support in the national election. I only cite this to show the hypocrisy on the part of the white man in America, whether he be down South or whether he be up here in the North.

Democrats, now after they’ve been in the White House awhile, use an alibi for not having kept their promise to the Negroes who voted for them. They say, “Well, we can’t get this passed or we can’t get that passed.” The present make-up of the Congress is 257 Democrats and only 177 Republicans. Now how can a party of Democrats that received practically the full support of the so-called Negroes of this country and control nearly two-thirds of the seats in Congress give the Negro an excuse for not getting some kind of legislation passed to solve the Negro problem? Where the senators are concerned, there are 67 Democrats and only 33 Republicans; yet these Democrats are going to try to pass the buck to the Republicans after the Negro has put the Democrats in office. Now I’m not siding with either Democrats or Republicans. I’m just pointing out the deceit on the part of both when it comes to dealing with the Negro. Although the Negro vote put the Democratic Party where it is, the Democratic Party gives the Negro nothing; and the Democrats offer as an excuse that the fault lies with the Dixie-crats. What do you call them Dixie-crats or Dixo-crats or Demo-Dixo-crats!

Look at the shrewd deceptive manner in which they deal with the Negro. A Dixo-crat is a Democrat. You can call them by whatever name you wish, but you have never seen a situation where the Dixie-crats kick the Democrats out of the party. Rather the Democrats kick the Dixiecrats out of their party if there is ever any cleavage. You oftentimes find the Dixie-crats “cussing out” the Democrats, but you never find the Democrats disassociating themselves from the Dixie-crats. They are together and they use this shrewd maneuvering to trick the Negro. Now there are some young Negroes appearing on the scene, and it is time for those who call themselves Democrats to realize that when the Negro looks at a Democrat, he sees a Democrat. Whether you call him a Dixo-Democrat or a Demo-Dixie-crat, he’s the same thing.

One of the reasons that these Dixie-crats occupy such a powerful position in Washington, D.C., is that they have seniority. By reason of their seniority and primarily because they have denied the local Negro his right to vote, they hold sway over key committees in Washington. You call it a system based on democracy, yet you can’t deny that the most powerful men in this government are from the South. The only reason they’re in positions of power is because the Negroes in their area are deprived of their constitutional right to vote. But the Constitution says that when at any time the people of a given area are denied their right to vote, the representatives of that area are supposed to be expelled from their seat. You don’t need any new legislation; it’s right in front of you already. The only reason the politicians want new legislation is to use it to further trick the Negro. All they have to do is to go by that thing they call the Constitution. It needs no more bills, it needs no more amendments, it needs no more anything. All it needs is a little sincere application.

As with the South, the North knows its own bypass for the Constitution, which goes by the name of “gerrymandering.” Some fellows gain control in the so-called Negro community and then change voting lines every time the Negro begins to get too powerful numerically. The technique is different from that in Mississippi. There is no denying the Negro the right to vote outright, as in Mississippi. The Northern way is more shrewd and subtle; but whether victim of the Northern way or the Southern method, the Negro ends up with no political power whatsoever. Now, I may not be putting this in language which you’re used to, but I’m quite sure that you get the point. Whenever you give the Negro in the South the right to vote, his Constitutional right to vote, it will mean an automatic change in the entire representation from the South. Were he able to exercise his right, some of the most powerful and influential figures in Washington, D.C., would not now be in the Capitol. A large Negro vote would change the foreign policy as well as the domestic policy of this government. Therefore the only valid approach toward revolutionizing American policy is to give to the Negro his right to vote. Once that is done, the entire future course of things must change.

I might say this is how we look at it—how the victims look at it, a very crude and what you might call pessimistic view. But I should rather prefer it as a realistic view. Now what is our approach towards solving this? Many of you have probably just recently read that I am no longer an active member in the Nation of Islam, although I am myself still a Muslim. My religion is still Islam, and I still credit the Honorable Elijah Muhammad with being responsible for everything I know and everything that I am. In New York we have recently founded the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, which has as its base the religion of Islam, the religion of Islam because we have found that this religion creates more unity among our people than any other type of philosophy can do. At the same time, the religion of Islam is more successful in eliminating the vices that exist in the so-called Negro community, which destroy the moral fiber of the so-called Negro community.

So with this religious base, the difference between the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, and the Nation of Islam is probably this: We have as our political philosophy, Black Nationalism; as our economic philosophy, Black Nationalism; and as our social philosophy, Black Nationalism. We believe that the religion of Islam combined with Black Nationalism is all that is needed to solve the problem that exists in the so-called Negro community. Why?

The only real solution to our problem, just as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad has taught us, is to go back to our homeland and to live among our own people and develop it so we’ll have an independent nation of our own. I still believe this. But that is a long- range program. And while our people are getting set to go back home, we have to live here in the meantime. So in the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s long-range program, there’s also a short-range program: the political philosophy which teaches us that the black man should control the politics of his own community. When the black man controls the politics and the politicians in his own community, he can then make them produce what is good for the community. For when a politician in the so-called Negro community is controlled by a political machine outside, seldom will that politician ever do what is necessary to bring up the standard of living or to solve the problems that exist in that community. So our political philosophy is designed to bring together the so- called Negroes and to re-educate them to the importance of politics in concrete betterment, so that they may know what they should be getting from their politicians in addition to a promise. Once the political control of the so-called Negro community is in the hands of the so- called Negro, then it is possible for us to do something towards correcting the evils and the ills that exist there.

Our economic philosophy of Black Nationalism means that instead of our spending the rest of our lives begging the white man for a job, our people should be re-educated to the science of economics and the part that it plays in our community. We should. be taught just the basic fundamentals: that whenever you take money out of the neighborhood and spend it in another neighborhood, the neighborhood in which you spend it gets richer and richer, and the neighborhood from which you take it gets poorer and poorer. This creates a ghetto, as now exists in every so-called Negro community in this country. If the Negro isn’t spending his money downtown with what we call “the man,” “the man” is himself right in the Negro community. All the stores are run by the white man, who takes the money out of the community as soon as the sun sets. We have to teach our people the importance of where to spend their dollars and the importance of establishing and owning businesses. Thereby we can create employment for ourselves, instead of having to wait to boycott your stores and businesses to demand that you give us a job. whenever the majority of our people begin to think along such lines, you’ll find that we ourselves can best solve our problems. Instead of having to wait for someone to come out of your neighborhood into our neighborhood to tackle these problems for us, we ourselves may solve them.

The social philosophy of Black Nationalism says that we must eliminate the vices and evils that exist in our society, and that we must stress the cultural roots of our forefathers, that will lend dignity and make the black man cease to be ashamed of himself. We have to teach our people something about our cultural roots. We have to teach them something of their glorious civilizations before they were kidnapped by your grandfathers and brought over to this country. Once our people are taught about the glorious civilization that existed on the African continent, they won’t any longer be ashamed of who they are. We will reach back and link ourselves to those roots, and this will make the feeling of dignity come into us; we will feel that as we lived in times gone by, we can in like manner today. If we had civilizations, cultures, societies, and nations hundreds of years ago, before you came and kidnapped us and brought us here, so we can have the same today. The restoration of our cultural roots and history will restore dignity to the black people in this country. Then we shall be satisfied in our own social circles; then we won’t be trying to force ourselves into your social circles. So the social philosophy of Black Nationalism doesn’t in any way involve any anti- anything. However, it does restore to the man who is being taunted his own self-respect. And the day that we are successful in making the black man respect himself as much as he now admires you, he will no longer be breathing down your neck every time you go buy a house somewhere to get away from him.

That is the political, social, and economic philosophy of Black Nationalism, and in order to bring it about, the program that we have in the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, places an accent on youth. We are issuing a call for students across the country, from coast to coast, to launch a new study of the problem-not a study that is in any way guided or influenced by adults, but a study of their own. Thus we can get a new analysis of the problem, a more realistic analysis. After this new study and more realistic analysis, we are going to ask those same students (by students I mean young people, who having less of a stake to lose, are more flexible and can be more objective) for a new approach to the problem.

Already we have begun to get responses from so- called Negro students from coast to coast, who aren’t actually religiously inclined, but who are nonetheless strongly sympathetic to the approach used by Black Nationalism, whether it be social, economic, or political. And with this new approach and with these new ideas we think that we may open up a new era here in this country. As that era begins to spread, people in this country-instead of sticking under your nose or crying for civil rights-will begin to expand their civil rights plea to a plea for human rights. And once the so-called Negro in this country forgets the whole civil rights issue and begins to realize that human rights are far more important and broad than civil rights, he won’t be going to Washington, D.C., anymore, to beg Uncle Sam for civil rights. He will take his plea for human rights to the United Nations. There won’t be a violation of civil rights anymore. It will be a violation of human rights. Now at this moment, the governments that are in the United Nations can’t step in, can’t involve themselves with America’s domestic policy. But the day the black man turns from civil rights to human rights, he will take his case into the halls of the United Nations in the same manner as the people in Angola, whose human rights have been violated by the Portuguese in South Africa.

You’ll find that you are entering an era now where the black man in this country has ceased to think domestically, or within the bounds of the United States, and he’s beginning to see that this is a world-wide issue and that he needs help from outside. We need help from our brothers in Africa who have won their independence. And when we begin to show them our thinking has expanded to an international scale, they will step in and help us, and you’ll find that Uncle Sam will be in a most embarrassing position. So the only way Uncle Sam can stop us is to get some civil rights passed-right now! For if he can’t take care of his domestic dirt, it’s going to be put before the eyes of the world. Then you’ll find that you’ll have nobody on your side, whatsoever, other than, perhaps, a few of those Uncle Toms-and they’ve already out-lived their time.

* * *
Moderator: I suggest we follow this format: We will have reactions and responses to what Malcolm X has said from the members of the panel, then give Malcolm X a chance to discuss their views. The first member of the panel to address us will be Professor James Q. Wilson, who has written an important book about Negro politics in Chicago. At present, Professor Wilson is Associate Professor of Government at Harvard and also Director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies. The second speaker this evening will be Dr. Martin L. Kilson. Dr. Kilson is Lecturer on Government at Harvard, and will soon publish his first book, Political Change in a West African Slate.

[Panel members responnd.]

Moderator: Mr. X, I wonder if you’d like to reply to either Professor Wilson or Dr. Kilson.
Malcolm X: As I said in my opening statement, I’m not a student of politics nor a politician, but I did learn a lot listening to the speakers. Mr. Wilson pointed out very decisively that politics won’t solve the problem…this is what I got out of what he said…the politicians can’t do it. In fact I can see now why the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that complete separation is the only answer. For what I got from what he was saying is that Uncle Sam sees no hope within his political system of solving this problem that has become so complex that you can hardly even describe it. And this is why I said that we are issuing a call to youth, primarily, to get some new ideas and a new direction. The adults are more confused than the problem itself. It will take a whole generation of new people to approach this problem.

I would not like to leave the impression that I have ever, in any way, proposed a Negro party. Whoever entertains that thought is very much misinformed. We have never at any time advocated any kind of Negro party. The idea that I have been trying to convey is that Black Nationalism is our political philosophy. I didn’t mention “party.” By Black Nationalism I meant a political philosophy that makes the black man more conscious of the importance of his doing something to control his own destiny. The political philosophy maintained now by most black people in this country seems to me to leave their destiny in the hands of someone who doesn’t even look like them. So, you see, the political philosophy of Black Nationalism has nothing to do with party. It is designed to make the black man develop some kind of consciousness or awareness of the importance of his shaping his own future, instead of leaving it to some segregationists in Washington, D.C., who come from the North as well as from the South. In pointing out that we are putting an accent on youth, we wish to let you know that our minds are wide open. We don’t think we have the answer, but we are open-minded enough to try to seek the answer not from these old hicks, whom I think have gone astray, but from the youth. For the young may approach the problem from a new slant and perhaps come up with something that nobody else has thought of yet.

In reply to Dr. Kilson, who pointed out how Marcus Garvey failed: Marcus Garvey failed only because his movement was infiltrated by Uncle Toms, sent in by the government as well as by other bodies to maneuver him into a position wherein the government might have him sent to Atlanta, Georgia, put in a penitentiary, then deported, and his movement destroyed. But Marcus Garvey never failed. Marcus Garvey was the one who gave a sense of dignity to the black people in this country. He organized one of the largest mass movements that ever existed in this country; and his entire philosophy of organizing and attracting Negroes was based on going-back-to-Africa, which proves that the only mass movement which ever caught on in this country was designed to appeal to what the masses really felt. More of them then preferred to go back home than to stay here in this country and continue to beg the power structure for something they knew they would never get. Garvey did not fail. Indeed, it was Marcus Garvey’s philosophy that inspired the Nkrumah fight for the independence of Ghana from the colonialism that was imposed on it by England. It is also the same Black Nationalism that has been spreading throughout Africa and that has brought about the emergence of the present independent African states. Garvey never failed. Garvey planted the seed which has popped up in Africa-everywhere you look, and although they’re still trying to stamp it out in Angola, in South Africa, and in other places, you will soon be able to see for yourselves whether or not Garvey failed. He may have failed in America, but he didn’t fail in Africa; and when Africa succeeds, you’ll find that you have a new situation on your hands here in America.

I can’t abide anyone referring to Black Nationalism as any kind of racism. Whenever white people get together they don’t call it racism. The European Common Market is for Europeans; it excludes everyone else. In that case you don’t call it racism; all the numerous blocks and groups and syndicates and cliques that the Western nations have formed are never referred to as racist. But when we dark people want to form some kind of united effort to solve our problem, either you or somebody you have brainwashed comes up with “racism.” We don’t call it racism; we call it brotherhood. To note just one more small point: it is true that a large middle-class group of so-called Negroes has developed in this country, and you may think that these Negroes are satisfied or that they want to stay here because they have a “stake.” This is the popular misconception. The middle-class Negro in this country is almost more frustrated, disillusioned, and disenchanted than the Negro in the alley. Why? The Negro in the alley does not even think about integrating with you because he knows that he hasn’t enough money to go where you are in control. So it doesn’t enter his mind; he’s less frustrated when he knows it’s impossible. But this middle-class Negro, sharp as a tack with his Harvard accent and with his pocket full of your money, thinks he should be able to go everywhere. Indeed, he should be able to go everywhere, so he will try.

Moderator: I will take questions from the floor.

Question: I have a question for Mr. Malcolm X. “What is your view of the Freedom Now Party, which is certainly a third party movement? How do you feel about this alternative way of solving the Negro problem?

Malcolm X: I have met Negroes of the Freedom Now Party, all of whom seem to be very militant. They are young and militant and less likely to compromise. For these reasons it offers more hope than other alternatives being dangled in front of the so-called Negro. I couldn’t say I would endorse the Freedom Now Party, but my mind is wide open to anything that will help gain progress. In addition, members of the Freedom Now Party seem to be more flexible than members of the Democratic and Republican parties. I don’t think anything can be worse than the Democrats and Republicans.

Question: Mr. Malcolm X, do you support a bloody revolution and, if not, what kind do you have in mind, especially when the Negro is at a numerical disadvantage?

Malcolm X: Don’t tell me about a six-to-one disadvantage. I agree it is a six-to-one disadvantage when you think in terms of America. But in the world the nonwhite people have you at an eleven-to-one disadvantage. We black people consider ourselves a part of that vast body of dark people who outnumber the whites, and we don’t regard ourselves as a minority.

Question: Mr. Malcolm X, you said the type of civil rights agitation we see now has not altered the morality of white people. Could you comment on that?

Malcolm X: When exposed to the methods of civil rights groups, whites remain complacent. You couldn’t appeal to their ethical sense or their sense of legality. But, on the, other hand, when they hear the analysis of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, whites become more sharply attuned to the problem. They become more conscious of the problem. You can appeal to what intelligence whites have. Let the black man speak his mind so that the white man really knows how he feels. At the same time, let the white man speak his mind. Let everyone put his facts on the table. Once you put the facts on the table, it’s possible to arrive at a solution.

The civil rights movement has put the white man in a position where he has to take a stand contrary to his intelligence. Many whites who do not support integration are afraid to say so when face to face with a Negro for fear the Negro will call him a bigot or a racist. So that even though a white in his intelligence can see that this forced integration will never work, he’s afraid to say this to a black man; whereas if the white could speak his mind to the black man, he might wake that man up. My contention is that the approach used by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is more realistic. A white man can speak his mind to a Muslim, and a Muslim is going to speak his mind to a white man. Once you establish this honest, sincere, realistic communication, you’ll get a solution to the problem. But don’t you give me that you love me and make me do the same thinking when there’s nothing in our backgrounds nor anything around us which in any way gives either of us reason to love each other. Let’s be real!