APRIL 1964: THE BALLOT OR THE BULLET (MALCOLM X) / I AM PREPARED TO DIE (NELSON MANDELA)

xApril 1964 saw a pair of significant speeches by two of the 20th century’s foremost civil rights figures, delivered just days apart on opposite sides of the world.

Malcolm X spoke to an audience at Cleveland’s Cory Methodist Church on April 3. He’d split from the Nation of Islam just a month before, and everyone listened to hear if the move meant a shift toward the mainstream, non-violent approach advocated by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Malcolm X’s words basically eliminated that particular suggestion:

“It’s time now for you and me to become more politically mature and realize what the ballot is for; what we’re supposed to get when we cast a ballot; and that if we don’t cast a ballot, it’s going to end up in a situation where we’re going to have to cast a bullet. It’s either a ballot or a bullet.”

MANDELA

On April 20, a packed courtroom heard Nelson Mandela’s long-awaited speech at his trial for sabotage, guerilla warfare, and furthering acts of communism in South Africa. Mandela was already serving time alongside a dozen other leaders of the African National Congress. This follow-up brought his chance to put the South African government on trial for injustice and a legal system tilted toward the country’s white minority. Mandela backers Anthony Sampson and Nadine Gordimer helped the legendary South African leader craft a 3-hour long speech, which ended like this:

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Experts anticipated Mandela to receive the death penalty at the end of the trial. Instead, the court convicted and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Mandela sat in stir for 27 years before he was released, and won election as President of South Africa.

Malcolm X lost his life to an assassin’s bullet on February 25, 1965.

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