It shall be the Ballot or the Bullet
March 29, 1964
It is very very heartening and encouraging for me to see so many of our people take time to come out, especially on Easter Sunday night. You and I are not a people who are used to going anywhere on Easter night--or on Easter Sunday night--to hear anything to do with African-Americans, or so-called Negroes.
One of the reasons that it is bad for us to continue to just refer to ourselves as the so-called Negro, that's negative. When we say so-called Negro that's pointing out what we aren't, but it isn't telling us what we are. We are Africans, and we happen to be in America. We are not Americans. We are a people who formerly were Africans who were kidnaped and brought to America. Our forefathers weren't the Pilgrims. We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us. We were brought here against our will; we were not brought here to be made citizens. We were not brought here to enjoy the constitutional gifts that they speak so beautifully about today. Because we weren't brought here to be made citizens--today, now that we've become awakened to some degree, and we begin to ask for those things which they say are supposedly for all Americans, they look upon us with a hostility and unfriendliness.
So our unwanted presence--the fact that we are unwanted is becoming magnified in all of America's preachments today and the only way that we who are...
The first step for those of us who believe in the philosophy of Black Nationalism is to realize that the problem begins right here. The first problem is right here. We have to elevate our thinking right here first--not just the thinking of a handful, that won't do it. But the thinking of 22 million black people in this country must be elevated. They must be made to see it as we see it. They must be made to think as we think, and then they'll be ready to act just as we're ready to act.
The black nationalists don't realize this. The black nationalists will fail as other groups have failed. Any philosophy that you have that can't be implemented is no good. A "preaching" or a gospel is no better than its ability to be carried out in a manner that will make it beneficial to the people who accept it.
When you have a philosophy or a gospel--I don't care whether it's a religious gospel, a political gospel, an economic gospel or a social gospel--if it's not going to do something for you and me right here and right now--to hell with that gospel! In the past, most of the religious gospels that you and I have heard have benefitted only those who preach it. Most of the political gospels that you and I have heard have benefitted only the politicians. The social gospels have benefitted only the sociologists.
You and I need something right now that's going to benefit all of us. That's going to change the community in which we live, not try to take us somewhere else. If we can't live here, we never will live somewhere else.
Number one: Why is it so difficult to get so many of our people in this country interested in going to Africa? And I have to point this out because today the entire question has reached a new level of thought. There was a time when you talked about going to Africa, and you heard about it out on the corner--125th Street and 7th Avenue. But today on college campuses across the country you have students who are interested in nationalism. Nationalism is the wave of the present and the future. It is nationalism that is bringing freedom to oppressed people all over the world. It was nationalism that brought freedom to the Algerians. It was nationalism that brought freedom to the Nigerians and to the Ghanaians. It was nationalism that brought freedom to the people of Uganda and Tanganyika and Sudan and Somaliland. It was nationalism that has brought about the freedom of every oppressed people. They have studied the tactics and the strategy and the message of all of the African nations who have emerged and have won their independence. And they have seen that the Africans did not get it by sitting in. They did not get it by waiting in. They did not get it by singing, "We Shall Overcome;" they got it through nationalism. And you and I will get it through nationalism.
What is it that makes it difficult for the philosophy of nationalism to spread among the so-called Negroes? Number one, they think they have a stake in America. They think they have an investment in this country. Which we do: We've invested 310 years of slave labor. 310 years, every day of which your and my mother and father worked for nothing. Not eight hours a day--there was no union in that day. They worked from sunup until sundown--from can't see in the morning until can't see at night. They never had a day off! And on Sunday they were allowed to sit down and sing about when they died they wouldn't be slaves no more-- when they died, they wouldn't be slaves no more. They'd go up in the sky and every day would be Sunday. That's a shame.
And it is that 310 years of slave labor that was my and your contribution into this particular economy and political system.
You and I should let them know now that either we collect our investment right here, right now, and then if we can't collect it here, our people will then be ready to go back home. Let's go ahead and join in with them and make these men pay these back wages. Make him give us the back pay.
Let's join in--if this is what the Negro wants, let's join him. Let's show him how to struggle. Let's show him how to fight. Let's show him how to bring a real revolution.
Let's make him stop jiving!
If you're interested in freedom, you need some judo, you need some karate--you need all the things that will help you fight for freedom. If we don't resort to the bullet, then immediately we have to take steps to use the ballot.
Equality of opportunity, if the constitution at the present time [doesn't offer it], then change it. Either it offers it, or it doesn't offer it. If it offers it--good, then give it to us--if it doesn't offer it, then change it. You don't need a debate. You don't need a filibuster. You need some action!
So what you and I have to do is get involved. You and I have to be right there breathing down their throats. Every time they look over their shoulders, we want them to see us.
We want to make them--we want to make them--pass the strongest civil-rights bill they ever passed, because we know that even after they pass it, they can't enforce it.
In order to do this, we're starting a voters' registration drive. We have to get everybody in Harlem registered, not as Democrats or Republicans, but registered as Independents. We're going to organize a corps of brothers and sisters who, after this city is mapped out, they won't leave one apartment-house door not knocked on. There won't be a door in Harlem that will not have been knocked on to see that whatever black face lives behind that door is registered to vote by a certain time this year. Nobody will have an excuse not to be registered. We'll ask him to let us see your card. If you don't have the sense of responsibility to get registered, we'll move you out of town.
It's going to be the ballot or the bullet...
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