UPDATED: 7:35 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022 —
Nearly 60 years after his assassination, Malcolm X remains one of the most influential political figures.
As the world pauses to celebrate Malcolm X’s 97th birthday on Thursday, it can’t be ignored how much the civil rights icon’s quotes and speeches have been widely shared with new generations feeling the impact of his words on a daily basis.
Struck down in his prime, Malcolm X was just getting started with the next level of his organizing.
Malcolm’s work inspired efforts to build pro-Black movements to uplift Black communities and disrupt white supremacy. A few groups have tried to continue Malcolm’s efforts to bring human rights charges against the United States to the United Nations.
Whether you know his work from reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” or you have seen quotes over the years, Malcolm’s lessons and approach to Black struggle offer insights into dealing with present-day adversities.
The subject of several documentaries and featured in multiple films, he has been a common figure across pop culture. Many actors have stepped into the role of Brother Malcolm, but there is nothing better than listening to the original himself.
His voice has a simple power. Whether in speeches, lectures or debates, Malcolm directly challenged the status quo of white supremacy in places like Oxford Union and Harvard.
“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,” Malcolm said to a crowd at Harvard in 1964.
He founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) in mid-1964. Establishing the OAAU represented his shift to work outside the confines of the Nation of Islam.
Months before his murder, Malcolm reached out to the leaders of African nations asking for their assistance in bringing his case. According to a 2014 article in the Amsterdam News, he sought to internationalize the plight of Black Americans. Malcolm highlighted the interconnectedness between the newly independent Black nations and Black people struggling for equity in America in his appeal to African leaders.
While he was not the first Black person to propose going before the United Nations, his efforts left an impression on organizers for generations to come.
Here are 11 quotes and phrases that are still relevant today.
1. Malcolm On Peace & FreedomSource:Getty
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” – speech in New York, 7 January 1965, “Malcolm X Speaks”
2. Malcolm X On PatriotismSource:Getty
“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.”―
3. Malcolm On Love, Understanding And UnitySource:Getty
“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”
4. Malcolm X On Truth & JusticeSource:Getty
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
5. By Any Means NecessarySource:Getty
“We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.” – speech at the founding rally for OAAU.
6. Malcolm X On CapitalismSource:Getty
“You show me a capitalist, and I’ll show you a bloodsucker”
7. Malcolm X On The MediaSource:Getty
“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.”
8. Malcolm On ReadingSource:Getty
“Read absolutely everything you get your hands on because you’ll never know where you’ll get an idea from.” – from “Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements“
9. Malcolm On Human RightsSource:Getty
“It is not a Negro problem, nor an American problem. This is a world problem, a problem for humanity. It is not a problem of civil rights, it is a problem of human rights.” – speech to the OAU
10. Malcolm On Being Influenced By The MediaSource:Getty
“When you let yourself be influenced by images created by others, you’ll find that oftentimes the one who creates those images can use them to mislead and misuse you.” – Harvard Law School Forum of Dec. 16, 1964
11. Malcolm On Struggling Against Biased DepictionsSource:Getty
“Victims of racism are created in the image of racists. When the victims struggle vigorously to protect themselves from violence of others, they are made to appear in the image of criminals; as the criminal image is projected onto the victim.” – Harvard Law School Forum of Dec. 16, 1964