circa 1962: American political activist and radical civil rights leader, Malcolm X (1925 – 1965) standing at a podium during a rally of African-American Muslims held in a Washington, DC arena. He is wearing a formal jacket and a white bow-tie. (Photo by Richard Saunders/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
May 19, 2020, marks what would have and possibly, could have been Malcolm X‘s 95th birthday. Born Malcolm Little, the prolific author and activist championed for the liberation and civil rights of Black people until his untimely assassination in 1965, at the young age of 39.
Today, many of Malcolm X’s words hold truth and relevancy. Despite being dated on paper, in meaning and message, his prose is timeless. His bestselling 1965 book, The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, published posthumously and written in collaboration with Alex Haley, helped immortalize his story and sentiments for generations to come.
Below are 15 quotes from his speeches and texts that hold steady in modern times.
On Social Justice and Police Brutality:
Unfortunately, not much has changed in our social justice system since the 1960s. Still, Black people are unfairly targeted and punished by the police and self-righteous, racist fueled citizens, often with deadly consequences. These quotes from Malcolm X, which call for justice and truth, are applicable to the violent videos and images of beaten and bloodied Black bodies and cases that have unjust endings. The powerful words are inspirational to empower the African-American community to continue fighting for equality, by any means necessary.
Portrait of American political activist and radical civil rights leader Malcolm X (1925 – 1965) as he holds an 8mm movie camera in London Airport, London, England, July 9, 1964. Shortly after breaking his affiliation with the Nation of Islam, and just days after his formation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), Malcolm X was in London en route to Egypt to attend a meeting of the Organization of African Unity and to meet with the leaders of various African states. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
• “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.”
• “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
• “The common goal of 22 million Afro-Americans is respect as human beings, the God-given right to be a human being. Our common goal is to obtain the human rights that America has been denying us. We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens there until we are first recognized as humans.”
• “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
• “When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won’t do to get it, or what he doesn’t believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn’t believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire…or preserve his freedom.”
As society continues to be undone and remodeled by the coronavirus, aspects of culture have been exposed, resulting in disproportionate relief. As Black communities are ravished by the highly contagious respiratory illness, others have taken to state capitols to protest the social distancing mandates, demanding the opening of barbershops and malls. The pandemic highlighted the disparity in race and class status in America. Malcolm X leaves behind quotes on the perils of patriotism, and why all should stand-up for humanity.
• “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.”
• “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.”
• “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
On Supporting and Maintaining Black Business and Community:
Former Nation Of Islam leader and civil rights activist El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka Malcolm X and Malcolm Little) poses for a portrait on February 16, 1965, in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
• “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.”
• “I, for one, believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.”
• “There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.”
• “Stumbling is not falling.”
On Staying Woke:
In the midst of “fake news” and viral social media conspiracy theories, it is important now, more than ever, to remain aware and hold media and news outlets accountable. Malcolm X’s legacy includes not only ensuring his own knowledge, but also meaningfully sharing his wisdom. These quotes remind us to not only operate with a sense of intuitiveness and empower peers to do the same.
• “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
• “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.”
• “You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is be an intelligent human being.”