Malcolm X gave his The Ballot or the Bullet speech on April 3, 1964 at a meeting sponsored by the Cleveland, Ohio, chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality. Race dominated Americas domestic agenda at the time. A bill outlawing segregation in public facilities was up for debate in Congress. Millions of Americans had watched television stories showing police dogs attacking African American children protesting for integration in Birmingham, Alabama, had been watched by millions of Americans.
Malcolm X began his speech by urging African Americans to submerge their differences and realize that they all have a common problem -- "political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation at the hands of the white man. Noting that 1964 was an election year, Malcolm X told his audience to use the ballot or the bullet. African Americans, now politically mature, are realizing that when white people are evenly divided blacks can be the swing vote to determine whos going to sit in the White House and whos going to be in the dog house. And if they dont cast a ballot, he warned, its going to end up in a situation where were going to have to cast a bullet.
The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning discrimination in public accommodations was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964. Hailed by scholars as one of the most influential African Americans in history, Malcolm X was assassinated a year after giving this speech on February 21, 1965.