“Message to the Grass Roots” is among Malcolm X’s most famous and most influential speeches. As its preface notes, it was delivered in November 1963, shortly before Malcolm X’s break with the Nation of Islam.
After completing this assignment, students should be able to explain the meaning and messages in Malcolm X’s speech. Specifically, they should be able to
- Identify who is “the grassroots.”
- Identify who is not “the grassroots.”
- Identify and explain the characteristics of a “real” revolution.
- Explain why Malcolm X admires the Chinese revolution.
- Explain the reason that the Bandung conference should serve as a model.
- Explain the wellsprings of the March on Washington.
- Explain the ways that the March on Washington was co-opted.
- Explain why James Baldwin was not invited to speak at the March.
- Summarize the modern-day lessons to be drawn from the days of slavery.
- “Message to the Grassroots”
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Malcolm X was a master orator, and how he delivers these words is as important as the words themselves. The best way to study this speech is to listen to the audio recording while following along with the printed version.
The preface to the printed version offers vital context for the speech’s occasion.
In spring 1963, Martin Luther King’s SCLC had won a major victory in Birmingham, Alabama. That August, the March on Washington had drawn more than 100,000 people to Washington, D.C. At the March King had delivered the keynote address that become known as the “I have a dream” speech. “The Message to the Grassroots,” then, was delivered at the height of the mainstream Movements prestige and power. Within two years, many of King white allies would reject him, the results of his efforts to bring the Movement north to Chicago as well as his opposition to the war in Viet Nam.
Coates praises, cites, and glosses this speech, which served as a touchstone for his developing consciousness (Coates 35-37).
- “Message to the Grassroots” (46:36)
- Message to the Grassroots