The Ballot or the Bullet

This study guide will help you analyze the speech “The Ballot or the Bullet” by Malcolm X. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on summary, analysis, topic, speaker, audience, language, modes of persuasion, circumstances and intention.

Presentation of the speech

Title: “The Ballot or the Bullet”
Speaker: Malcolm X
Where: Cory Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio
When: 3rd of April, 1964, during the Civil Rights Movement

Malcolm X (1925-1965) was an African-American human rights activist and a Muslim minister. Considered one of the most influential African Americans, he is also viewed as a controversial person. This is because he opposed the mainstream approach of the Civil Rights Movement which favored peaceful activism. Instead, he advocated for fighting for civil rights with any means (including violence) and was in favor of separatism (black communities governing and organizing themselves). He was killed in 1965 by members of the Nation of Islam to which Malcolm X belonged until he joined the Civil Rights Movement.

You can listen to a version of the speech from 12th of April, 1964 here.



Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 


Throughout the speech, Malcolm X constantly constructs images that are meant to stir negative emotions in the audience, such as anger, frustration, or resentment towards white Americans and the political class: “All of us have suffered here, in this country, political oppression at the hands of the white man, economic exploitation at the hands of the white man, and social degradation at the hands of the white man.”; “Uncle Sam's hands are dripping with blood, dripping with the blood of the black man in this country. He's the earth's number-one hypocrite.”

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The Ballot or the Bullet

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