In Malcolm X's original The Ballot or the Bullet speech, delivered in Ohio on 3 Apr 1964, just after he left the Nation of Islam, he outlines his case for taking the civil rights movement to the United Nations:

We need to expand the civil-rights struggle to a higher level - to the level of human rights. Whenever you are in a civil-rights struggle, whether you know it or not, you are confining yourself to the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam. No one from the outside world can speak out in your behalf as long as your struggle is a civil-rights struggle. Civil rights comes within the domestic affairs of this country. All of our African brothers and our Asian brothers and our Latin-American brothers cannot open their mouths and interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States. And as long as it's civil rights, this comes under the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam.

But the United Nations has what's known as the charter of human rights; it has a committee that deals in human rights. You may wonder why all of the atrocities that have been committed in Africa and in Hungary and in Asia, and in Latin America are brought before the UN, and the Negro problem is never brought before the UN...

When you expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights, you can then take the case of the black man in this country before the nations in the UN. You can take it before the General Assembly. You can take Uncle Sam before a world court. But the only level you can do it on is the level of human rights. Civil rights keeps you under his restrictions, under his jurisdiction. Civil rights keeps you in his pocket. Civil rights means you're asking Uncle Sam to treat you right. Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth. And any time any one violates your human rights, you can take them to the world court.

Uncle Sam's hands are dripping with the blood of the black man in this country. He's the earth's number-one hypocrite. He has the audacity - yes, he has - imagine him posing as the leader of the free world. The free world! And you over here singing "We Shall Overcome." Expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights. Take it into the United Nations, where our African brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Asian brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Latin-American brothers can throw their weight on our side, and where 800 million Chinamen are sitting there waiting to throw their weight on our side.

Do we know how much progress he made on this goal before his assassination 10 months later?

  • Was it an active goal, or a rhetorical device?
    – user15620
    Feb 4, 2021 at 22:16
  • @GorttheRobot Would be a very strange rhetorical device given how much Malcolm fleshes it out and the conviction with which he's talking about it. Feb 5, 2021 at 1:20
  • I have read a number of similar arguments, using the "if the US were treated like foreign countries" as a rhetorical device, however, some googling implies that he really was serious.
    – user15620
    Feb 5, 2021 at 1:45
  • At first, I misunderstood what you meant by Nation of Islam (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation_of_Islam). In such a case you should use quotes "Nation of Islam" and say it is an organization (not known outside the US) Feb 10, 2021 at 8:33
  • @JeanMarieBecker The NOI is definitely known outside of the US - which I am not from - but I can accept that its existence might only be common knowledge to those who know of Malcolm X's life story or civil rights history. Added the link to make this clearer. Feb 10, 2021 at 20:20

1 Answer 1


It appears he went as far as trying to convince African leaders of officially raising the issue.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 —The State Department and the Justice Department have begun to take an interest in Malcolm X's campaign to convince African states to raise the question of persecution of American Negroes at the United Nations.

The Black Nationalist leader started his campaign July 17 in Cairo, where the 33 heads of independent African states held their second meeting since the Organization of African Unity was founded in Addis Ababa 14 months ago.

The article continues:

Malcolm's eight‐page memorandum to the heads of state at the Cairo conference requesting their support became available here only recently. After studying it, officials said that if Malcolm succeeded in convincing just one African Government to bring up the charge at the United Nations, the United States Government would be faced with a touchy problem.

It appears he had little success

“Some African leaders at this conference,” he said in his memorandum, “have implied that they have enough problems here on the mother continent without adding the Afro‐American problem.

This occurred in seven months before his assassination. I was not able find anything stating he had either given up on the idea, or was merely waiting for a better time to re-raise the issue.

(All quotes from a New York Times article from August 13, 1964 titled "MALCOLM X SEEKS U.N. NEGRO DEBATE; He Asks African States to Cite U.S. Over Rights")

  • 4
    Yes, looks like he avoided USSR & allies in order to avoid being labeled as communist. African countries on the other hand considered Blacks in US in much better position then Blacks in their own countries.
    – rs.29
    Feb 9, 2021 at 8:49

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