By Vincent L. Hall
Even when the polls are open to all, Negroes have shown themselves too slow to exercise their voting privileges. There must be a concerted effort on the part of Negro leaders to arouse their people from their apathetic indifference…. In the past, apathy was a moral failure. Today, it is a form of moral and political suicide.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we approach a telling and consequential voting cycle, it is crucial, especially as Black people, to revisit the wisdom of two civil rights leaders who made voting a priority.
Although Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King were presumed to be polar opposites in the civil rights debate early on, they were nearer to lockstep. Both men were adamant promoters regarding the urgent need for us to vote.
As Brother Malcolm stood at the podium and rendered his famous “Ballot or the Bullet” speech, he may have sponsored the subtitle of Dr. King’s 1967 book, “Where do we go from here; Chaos or Community.”
“The question tonight, as I understand it, is “The Negro Revolt, and Where Do We Go From Here?” or What Next?” In my little humble way of understanding it, it points toward either the ballot or the bullet.
If we don’t do something real soon, I think you’ll have to agree that we’re going to be forced either to use the ballot or the bullet. It’s one or the other in 1964. It isn’t that time is running out—time has run out! 1964 threatens to be the most explosive year America has ever witnessed.”
Black folks have never been ready for the bullet, and Malcolm knew it. But, in my sanctified imagination, I believe he knew he made Dr. King the lesser of two evils.
Malcolm often assumed the role of “Bad cop.”
Malcolm allowed Martin to swim further out protesting in America’s sea of racism.
Despite all attempts to whitewash and canonize him as a noble, non-threatening dreamer, Martin said enough to get him killed. Don’t ever forget that.
Unknown to most is that King gave a speech called “Give us the Ballot” in 1954. He didn’t mention a bullet, but to White Segregationists, it was equally violent in tone
“Give us the ballot, and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy … Give us the ballot, and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954.
“Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights …Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law.
“Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will. Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy.”
Dr. King’s ringing proclamations are still timely, but we can add a few new demands.
Give us the ballot, and poor Texans can enjoy the billions of dollars in Medicare benefits Governor “Ab-Butt” denies them. Give us the ballot, and we can get funding for mental illness adequate to treat the tens of thousands of people we jail rather than treat.
Give us the ballot, and public education and teacher pay can be raised to meet the demands of our future. Give us the ballot, and books like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and “Stamped,” a children’s anti-racism book can be saved.
The CRT war is a farce.
Give us the ballot, and we will decriminalize marijuana and stop jailing the poor and minorities who statistically smoke at the same rates as middle-class and White citizens. Give us the ballot, and we will make voting accessible and convenient for all who have a legal right.
Martin got you the ballot, and Malcolm taught us that it is a bullet. Early voting in Dallas County starts on October 24, 2022. I dare you to use it!
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.