We can describe Malcolm X in many ways: Rebel. Minister. Speechmaker. Radical. Leader. Humans rights activist. He was a great man, and that essence is captured in these inspirational Malcolm X Quotes.
Let’s revisit his impact on racial justice by recounting the best remembered (and most controversial) Malcolm X quotes.
Born Malcolm Little in 1925, Malcolm X (as he’d become known later in life) had a difficult upbringing. Between the loss of both parents, the crushing poverty of the Great Depression, and foster care, his early life was shaped by tragedy and displacement.
Malcolm X excelled at school and wanted to become a lawyer. However, racism, limited opportunities, and a disparaging teacher caused Malcolm to drop out. He became involved in crime, leading to an arrest and later a prison sentence.
Prison introduced a young Malcolm X to new ideas and people. After making parole, he joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) and became one of its most prominent ministers. The NOI’s teachings shaped many of his beliefs, including his controversial stance on nonviolence, racial integration, and pan-Africanism.
He’d eventually leave the NOI in 1964, disillusioned with its leader and scripture. His once dogmatic views also began to shift towards integration and new solutions.
However, the story of Malcolm X was tragically cut short. He was assassinated on February 21, 1965, by members of the NOI.
12 Famous Malcolm X Quotes
Malcolm X was an unapologetic advocate for black empowerment. He was a skilled orator who used his voice for change.
Here are 12 famous Malcolm X quotes collected across his career:
1. “You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.”
2. “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
3. “There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
4. “It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
5. “It’ll be the ballot, or it’ll be the bullet. It’ll be liberty, or it’ll be death. And if you’re not ready to pay that price, don’t use the word freedom in your vocabulary.”
6. “Any time you beg another man to set you free, you will never be free. Freedom is something that you have to do for yourselves.”
7. “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”
8 “The main thing you got to remember is that everything in the world is a hustle.”
9. “When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath, he is going to tell you what he won’t do to get it, or what he doesn’t believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn’t believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire…or preserve his freedom.”
10. “I think that an objective reader may see how in the society to which I was exposed as a black youth here in America, for me to wind up in a prison was really just about inevitable. It happens to so many thousands of black youth.”
11. “I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong, than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.”
12. “You get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom; then you’ll get it. It’s the only way you’ll get it.”
13 Short Malcolm X Quotes
Malcolm X was a charismatic figure during a time of colossal social changes. Whether you’re a critic, admirer, or a neutral viewer, you’ll find that these 13 short quotes continue to inspire modern generations:
13. “Truth does not change, only our awareness of it.”
14. “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
15. “If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success.”
16. “Change is only a good thing if you change in a good way.”
17. “Stumbling is not falling.”
18. “A wise man can play the part of a clown, but a clown can’t play the part of a wise man.”
19. “Sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the gun down.”
20. “Anytime you rely on your enemy for a job, you’re in bad shape.”
21. “It is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come.”
22. “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
23. “To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace.”
24. “Time is more important to me than distance.”
25. “A man curses because he doesn’t have the words to say what’s on his mind.”
8 Malcolm X Quotes on Equality, Freedom, and Change
While often compared against Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and his sometimes controversial opinions were but one of several viewpoints that drove the civil rights movement.
View in gallery
Interestingly, by the end of his life, Malcolm X was moving away from his more drastic dream of total segregation. He wanted to shift the conversation of civil rights in America to an international concern, amongst other aspirations.
Here are 8 amazing quotes from Malcolm X about equality:
26. “Human rights are something you were born with. Your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth. And any time anyone violates your human rights, you can take them to the world court.”
27. “If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”
28. “I am not a racist. I’m against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.”
29. “We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
30. “It is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come.”
31. “Early in life, I learned that if you want something, you better make some noise.”
32. “How is it possible to write one’s autobiography in a world so fast-changing as this?”
33. “People involved in a revolution don’t become part of the system; they destroy the system.”
8 Malcolm X Quotes on Love and Community
Malcolm X was an extremely private man.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, his only published work, is arguably the most intimate look at his legacy as told through his own eyes.
If it weren’t for co-author Alex Haley, then we may have never known some of his deeper thoughts on community or where love fits into the narrative.
34. “We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”
35. “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”
36. “A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”
37. “The only way we’ll get freedom for ourselves is to identify ourselves with every oppressed people in the world. We are blood brothers to the people of Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba—yes, Cuba too.”
38. “I believe in the brotherhood of all men, but I don’t believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn’t want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street.”
39. “No man has believed perfectly until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
40. “True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete.”
41. “Culture is an indispensable weapon in the freedom struggle. We must take hold of it and forge the future with the past.”
10 Malcolm X Quotes on Violence and Injustice in America
Whereas Martin Luther King’s stance was fiercely for nonviolence, Malcolm X was critical. To many African Americans, his frank statements about violence and injustice were more representative of their hardships.
That said, Malcolm X expressed interest in working with other civil rights leaders following his break from the Nation of Islam. He even briefly met MLK Jr. on one occasion.
Regardless of what could’ve been, the following 10 quotes communicated an unfiltered truth:
42. “I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”
43. “America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
44. “Power never takes a back step—only in the face of more power.”
45. “We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.”
46. “American society makes it next to impossible for humans to meet in America and not be conscious of their color differences. And we both agreed that if racism could be removed, America could offer a society where rich and poor could truly live like human beings… The white man is not inherently evil, but America’s racist society influences him to act evilly. The society has produced and nourishes a psychology which brings out the lowest, most base part of human beings.”
47. “We’re not Americans; we’re Africans who happen to be in America. We were kidnapped and brought here against our will from Africa. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.”
48. “I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self-defense; I call it intelligence.”
49. “Usually, when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”
50. “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
51. “Why, when all of my ancestors are snake-bitten, and I’m snake-bitten, and I warn my children to avoid snakes, what does that snake sound like accusing me of hate-teaching?”
6 Malcolm X Quotes and His Life’s Philosophy
Like other civil rights leaders, Malcolm X was religious and worldly. After leaving the Nation of Islam, he traveled the globe. He pilgrimaged to Mecca, toured several African countries, and briefly touched down in Europe to give speeches and participate in debates.
This, combined with his already prolific persona in the USA, helped develop a unique perspective on life.
If you need some wisdom, then look no further than these 6 quotes from Malcolm X:
52. “In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure.”
53. “I, for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.”
54. “I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel that what I’m thinking and saying is now for myself.”
55. “Right now, in every big city ghetto, tens of thousands of yesterday’s and today’s school dropouts are keeping body and soul together by some form of hustling in the same way I did.”
56. “In any organization, someone must be the boss. If it’s even just one person, you’ve got to be the boss of yourself.”
57. “To me, the thing that is worse than death is betrayal. You see, I could conceive death, but I could not conceive betrayal.”
8 Malcolm X Quotes on The Importance of Education
Malcolm X believed in self-improvement through education. He was a keen reader, top of his class as a youth, and even went so far as to memorize the dictionary to sharpen his writing and debating skills.
Here are 8 of our favorite quotes from Malcolm X about education:
58. “My alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”
59. “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.”
60. “I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading has opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”
61. “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
62. “You can’t legislate good will– that comes through education.”
63. “The black man in America has to lift up his own sense of values. Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights. It is the means to help our children and thereby increase self-respect. Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
64. “Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world.”
65. “If you are in a country that is progressive, the woman is progressive. If you’re in a country that reflects the consciousness toward the importance of education, it’s because the woman is aware of the importance of education.”
9 Malcolm X Quotes on Media and Shaping Your Perspective
Malcolm X wasn’t the only civil rights leader heckled by the media, but he’s one of the best remembered.
He didn’t care about what others thought of him. Malcolm X held onto his beliefs, even in the face of harassment and death threats.
Whether you agree with his politics or not, these 9 quotes can inspire you to hold your ground too:
66. “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
67. “History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, a man is demoted to the lower animals.”
68. “The press is used to make it look like (the black man) is the criminal and (the police force is) the victim.”
69. “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
70. “They put your mind right in a bag and take it wherever they want.”
71. “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality.”
72. “I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda… I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I am 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.
73. “I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver—no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
74. “The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”
Final Thoughts on Malcolm X
The story of Malcolm X is one of change. For historians, his philosophy offers a unique perspective on the Civil Rights Movement.
Meanwhile, for supporters and modern-day admirers, Malcolm X was the unfiltered voice that poked at the ugliest sides of social reform and racial justice. However, for critics, he was a radical who did more harm than good.
What about you? What are your favorite Malcolm X quotes? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!