Throwback Thursday: Mos Def Reads Malcolm X - "Message To The Grass Roots"
Throwback Thursday is not all about starter jackets and gumby fades, kids. Today, at least, it is about horn-rimmed spectacles and a bow tie, a look that’s “less about style and more about purpose.” I am talking of course, about Malcolm X, who was assassinated on this day in 1965 at the Audobon Ballroom located in Harlem, USA. In remembering his life and words, I cannot think of a better TBT than okayplayer Yasiin Bey–then known as Mos Def–reciting the words of Malcolm’s famous “Message to The Grass Roots” speech, originally delivered at the King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan in 1963. Enjoy it below and scroll down for the full text and audio of the original speech. And see if you don’t get goosebumps as soon as you hear the words “We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat…we want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody can understand. We all agree tonight–all of the speakers have agreed–that America has a very serious problem…”
I would like to make a few comments concerning the difference between the Black revolution and the Negro revolution. There’s a difference. Are they both the same? And if they’re not, what is the difference? What is the difference between a Black revolution and a Negro revolution? First, what is a revolution? Sometimes I’m inclined to believe that many of our people are using this word “revolution” loosely, without taking careful consideration [of] what this word actually means, and what its historic characteristics are. When you study the historic nature of revolutions, the motive of a revolution, the objective of a revolution, and the result of a revolution, and the methods used in a revolution, you may change words. You may devise another program. You may change your goal and you may change your mind.
Look at the American Revolution in 1776. That revolution was for what? For land. Why did they want land? Independence. How was it carried out? Bloodshed. Number one, it was based on land, the basis of independence. And the only way they could get it was bloodshed. The French Revolution — what was it based on? The land-less against the landlord. What was it for? Land. How did they get it? Bloodshed. Was no love lost; was no compromise; was no negotiation. I’m telling you, you don’t know what a revolution is. ‘Cause when you find out what it is, you’ll get back in the alley; you’ll get out of the way. The Russian Revolution — what was it based on? Land. The land-less against the landlord. How did they bring it about?Bloodshed. You haven’t got a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed. And you’re afraid to bleed. I said, you’re afraid to bleed.
[As] long as the white man sent you to Korea, you bled. He sent you to Germany, you bled. He sent you to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, you bled. You bleed for white people. But when it comes time to seeing your own churches being bombed and little Black girls be murdered, you haven’t got no blood. You bleed when the white man says bleed; you bite when the white man says bite; and you bark when the white man says bark. I hate to say this about us, but it’s true. How are you going to be nonviolent in Mississippi, as violent as you were in Korea? How can you justify being nonviolent in Mississippi and Alabama, when your churches are being bombed, and your little girls are being murdered, and at the same time you’re going to violent with Hitler, and Tojo, and somebody else that you don’t even know?
If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it’s wrong to be violent defending Black women and Black children and Black babies and Black men, then it’s 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.