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Brendan Wagner

D. Plummer


ENG 211C

An Analysis of Malcom X’s “To The Grassroots” Speech

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on

you, send him to the cemetery,” Malcom X was quoted, at a rally in Detroit, Michigan. While often times,

when we learn about civil rights in history class we are taught about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa

Parks. In truth, our education turns a blind eye, whether in attempt in erasure of history, or to credit

those that were non-threatening, to a great number of civil rights leaders, who, without their work, the

movement wouldn’t have progressed to where it is today. People such as Dr. Huey P. Newton and as

mentioned above Malcom X. These people are neglected, because they are not as servile, and take a

much more aggressive stance. In particular, Malcom X was an incredibly influential leader, helping the

founding of the Black Panthers, a civil defense group for African-American communities, which could not

rely on aid from the police. In his speech to the grassroots movement, Malcom X makes a much stronger

argument, using factual history, designating a common enemy, and unifying minorities.

Malcom takes a much more pragmatic approach in the beginning of his speech, stating, “We

want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand,” Malcom

already uses his appeal to the everyman, by establishing commonality, a form of ethos. Malcom than

goes on to assert how America has a problem, and it is with minorities. This statement at first seems

shocking and against his cause, but he further goes on to denote, that America is in the wrong for having

a problem with them. It also functions as a pathological argument, creating fear amongst minorities,
against the white man and the government. By backing them in a corner, and establishing that all their

enemies are the same, it makes it easy for Malcom to than unify them, by triggering a flight or fight

mechanism. When an overwhelming force is coming to do you harm, your differences between you and

the other victims becomes irrelevant, and you both focus on that common enemy. He presents an issue,

but quickly makes sure he has a solution for it. A fallacy, perhaps, but a damn persuasive argument.

He then adds supporting, factual evidence to his argument, by citing the number of conquests,

imperializing of countries, and slaughters that can be attributed to white Europeans, a fantastic example

of logos. He later cites in his speech, about the numerous rebellions that have been held across the

world, in people fighting for their freedom. Using them as examples as why violence can be justified for

revolution. He makes a particularly strong argument when he brings up the United States, and making

them seem hypocritical to be opposed to violent revolution. This compared to Martin Luther King Jr.’s

analogies, which reference biblical figures and stories. While granted, that may create an appeal to

evangelicals, these cannot be backed up by fact or dates, unlike the various revolutions that Malcom

cites. On a purely factual argument alone, the American, French, Russian, and Chinese revolution all

serve as better support to the argument for violent revolution, than the story of Moses leading the Jews

out of Egypt to the argument for non-violent. Malcom’s examples also make for a strong argument,

because they are all examples and actions that man can take himself and need not rely on other-worldly

sources. The Jews in Egypt had to wait for Elohiem to take intervention, bringing about the days of

plagues. There is a lot less confidence that can be held, in a plan that relies on a being, whose existence

cannot be proven, as compared to a quantifiable plan.

Malcom, makes another assertion that if violence is wrong, than it is wrong across the board

using the Vietnam War to draw comparison. His claim, if it is just to fight and kill Vietnamese in the

name of self-defense of America, than it is equally valid for African-Americans to defend themselves in
America. By continually pointing out the hypocrisies in his opponent’s argument, he creates a situation

where, either his means are justified because they are only meeting what America has done onto them,

or America must stop what it is doing, because it is unjust, by the claims of America.

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