According to Malcolm X, when is violence justifiable?
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One of the more intriguing figures from the civil rights movement in the United States was Malcolm Little -- known to history as Malcolm X. During the course of his life, Malcolm X underwent a dramatic transformation from street thug and pimp to angry radical to reflective advocate of racial equality. His assassination by followers of the Black Muslim movement on February 21, 1965, while giving a speech on civil rights, demonstrated both the depth of his transformation and the sacrifice he made in trying to forge a more just world.
Malcolm X's views on when violence was justified were presented in terms of defending the African-American community from physical attacks such as occurred throughout the American South and from more subtle but still repressive practices in the North during the 1950s and 1960s. While Malcolm's personal transformation never included pacifism, his advocacy of violence was discussed in the context of the repressive atmosphere in which Black Americans lived. Speaking in November 1963 about the war in Vietnam and its connection to the struggle for equal rights here at home, he stated:
"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."
Malcolm's views on violence were further articulated in a February 14, 1965, speech:
"I don't believe in violence -- that's why I want to stop it. And you can't stop it with love, not love of those things down there [in the South], no. So, we only mean vigorous action in self-defense, and that vigorous action we feel we're justified in initiating by any means necessary...It's a corrupt, vicious hypocritical system that has castrated the Black man; and the only way the Black man can get back at it is to strike it in the only he knows how."
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