Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom


Malcolm X at Queens Court. PHOTO/Herman Hiller/Public domain/Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

Salaam Alaikum. I suppose I should take time to explain what I mean when I say “Salaam Alaikum.” Actually, it’s an expression that means “peace,” and it’s one that is always given to one’s brother or to one’s sister. It only means “peace be unto you.” So, when I say “A Salaam Alaikum” or “Salaam Alaikum” and others reply, “Alaikum Salaam,” why, they’re just returning the peace. It means we’re all at peace with one another, as brothers and sisters.

Now, brothers and sisters, first I want to thank those of you who have taken the time to come through that snow, which almost turned me back myself, and come out where we can try and put our heads together and get a better understanding of what is going on, what we’ve been through and what we’re all concerned about. As Sister Sharon has already pointed out, and I think she did so beautifully, during recent years our people have been struggling for some kind of relief from the conditions we’re confronted by.

When you go back over the period of struggle, I think it would be agreed that we’ve gone through different patterns of struggle, that we’ve struggled in different ways. Each way that we tried never produced what we were looking for. If it had been productive, we would have continued along that same way. We’ve tried probably more different methods than any people. But at the same time, I think we’ve tried more wrong methods than any other people, because most others have gotten more freedom than we have. Everywhere you look, people get their freedom faster than we do. They get more respect and recognition faster than we do. We get promises, but we never get the real thing. And primarily because we have yet to learn the proper tactic or strategy or method to bring freedom into existence.

I think that one of the things that has caused our people in this country to try so many methods is that times have changed so rapidly. What would be proper ten years ago would not have been proper seven years ago, or five years ago, or three years ago. Times change so quickly that if you and I don’t keep up with the times, we’ll find ourselves with an umbrella in our hand, over our head, when the sun is out. Or we’ll find ourselves standing in the rain, with the umbrella inside the door. If we don’t keep up with what’s going on, we will not be able to display the type of intelligence that will show the world we know what time it is and that we know what is happening around us .. . .

Several persons have asked me recently, since I’ve been back, “What is your program?” I purposely, to this day, have not in any way mentioned what our program is, because there will come a time when we will unveil it so that everybody will understand it. Policies change, and programs change, according to time. But objective never changes. You might change your method of achieving the objective, but the objective never changes. Our objective is complete freedom, complete justice, complete equality, by any means necessary. That never changes. Complete and immediate recognition and respect as human beings, that doesn’t change, that’s what all of us want. I don’t care what you belong to’ you still want that, recognition and respect as a human being. But you have changed your methods from time to time on how you go about getting it. The reason you change your method is that you have to change your method according to time and conditions that prevail. And one of the conditions that prevails on this earth right now, that we know too little about, is our relationship with the freedom struggle of people all over the world.

Here in America, we have always thought that we were struggling by ourselves, and most Afro-Americans will tell you just that—that we’re a minority. By thinking we’re a minority, we struggle like a minority. We struggle like we’re an underdog. We struggle like all of the odds are against us. This type of struggle takes place only because we don’t yet know where we fit in the scheme of things. We’ve been maneuvered out of a position where we could rightly know and understand where we fit into the scheme of things. It’s impossible for you and me to know where we stand until we look around on this entire earth. Not just look around in Harlem or New York, or Mississippi, or America—we have got to look all around this earth. We don’t know where we stand until, we know where America stands. You don’t know where you stand in America until you know where America stands in the world. We don’t know where you and I stand in this context, known to us as America, until we know where America stands in the world context.

When you and I are inside of America and look at America, she looks big and bad and invincible. Oh, yes, and when we approach her in that context, we approach her as beggars, with our hat in our hands. As Toms, actually, only in the twentieth-century sense, but still as Toms. While if we understand what’s going on this earth and what’s going on in the world today, and fit America into that context, we find out she’s not so bad, after all; she’s not very invincible. And when you find out she’s not invincible, you don’t approach her like you’re dealing with someone who’s invincible.

As a rule, up to now, the strategy of America has been to tuck all of our leaders up into her dress, and besiege them with money, with prestige, with praise, and make them jump, and tell them what to tell us. And they always tell us we’re the underdog, and that we don’t have a chance, and that we should do it nonviolently and carefully; otherwise, we’ll get hurt or we’ll get wasted. We don’t buy that.

Number one, we want to know what are we? How did we get to be what we are? Where did we come from? How did we come from there? Who did we leave behind? Where was it that we left them behind, and what are they doing over there where we used to be? This is something that we have not been told. We have been brought over here and isolated-you know the funniest thing about that: they accuse us of introducing “separation” and “isolation.” No one is more isolated than you and I. There’s no system on earth more capable of thoroughly separating and isolating a people than this system that they call the democratic system; and you and I are the best proof of it, the best example of it. We were separated from our people, and have been isolated here for a long time.

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