Doc Chat Episode Eight: The Making of a Malcolm X Speech

By Julie Golia, Associate Director, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books and Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscri
November 13, 2020
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

On October 29, 2020, Doc Chatters got a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of one of Malcolm X's most iconic—and misunderstood—speeches.

Malcolm X, "The Ballot or the Bullet," notes, 1964; NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 56674864

An ongoing series from NYPL's Center for Research in the Humanities, Doc Chat pairs a NYPL curator or specialist and a scholar to discuss evocative digitized items from the Library's collections and brainstorm innovative ways of teaching with them. In Episode Eight, NYPL’s Julie Golia and Malcolm X Scholar Zaheer Ali examined Malcolm's handwritten notes from his April 1964 speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet," discussing the context around the speech and identifying clues that can be gleaned about the civil rights leader's intellectual evolution and rhetorical intentions. 

Doc Chat Episode 8: The Making of a Malcolm X Speech from The New York Public Library on Vimeo.

Below are some handy links to materials and sources suggested in the episode. 

Episode Eight: Primary Sources

Malcolm's notes for "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech are multi-page and best viewed on NYPL's Digital Collections in book view.  Access them here

Zaheer and Julie discussed the idea of having students examine the notes to the speech, listen to audio recordings of the speech, and read through the speech's transcript. Access an audio recording of "The Ballot or the Bullet" here, and the transcript here.

Zaheer recommended that students also explore newspaper accounts and coverage of the speech (NYPL provides access to Proquest Historical Newspapers, Proquest African American Newspapers, and Newspapers.com) as well as FBI reports on Malcolm X. (see Malcolm Little (Malcolm X) HQ File 11 of 27, page 38).

Episode Eight: Readings and Resources

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Ballantine Books, 1992)

Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking, 2011)

Manning Marable and Garrett Felber, Eds., The Portable Malcolm X Reader (Penguin, 2013)

George Breitman, Ed., Malcolm X Speaks (Grove Press, 1965)

Les and Tamara Payne, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X (W.W. Norton, 2020). You can also check out this recent Schomburg Center public program with Tamara Payne and Reverend Calvin O. Butts III. Payne researched and wrote the book with her father, Les Payne, who passed away in 2018. 

From 2016 to 2020, Julie and Zaheer coproduced and cohosted Flatbush + Main, a podcast from Brooklyn Historical Society (now the Center for Brooklyn History at Brooklyn Public Library). Listen to their episode on Malcolm X in Brooklyn.

Join the Doc Chat Conversation

Doc Chat takes place on Zoom every Thursday at 3:30 PM. Upcoming episodes will tackle women photographers and modernism, the landscape of Brooklyn's industrial waterfront, and more. Check them out on NYPL's calendar, and make sure you don't miss an episode by signing up for NYPL's Research newsletter, which will include links to register. A video of each episode will be posted on the NYPL blog shortly after the program, so be sure to check back regularly to keep on top of the Doc Chat conversation.