On America: Dream or Nightmare?

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On America: Dream or Nightmare?

I... have a dream ... that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed ... that all men are created equal. —Martin Luther King

To Redeem the Soul of America —SCLC Motto

No, I'm not an American.... I'm not ... speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, ... or flag-waver.... I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don't see any American dream; I see an American nightmare. —Malcolm X

White America must now pay for her sins.... White America is doomed! —Malcolm X
Throughout his public career, King proclaimed America's ideals and his optimism about their achievement King's patriotic style was socially challenging. He characteristically deplored the nation's racism as betraying its ideals. Ever loving his country and its traditions, King challenged the nation to embody more fully its professed devotion to freedom and equality.

King voiced a sharply critical but also accepting attitude toward white Americans. He regularly upbraided them for violating their own best political and religious traditions by denying African Americans' equal citizenship rights. King often spoke in the stern tones of a biblical prophet chastising. the straying chosen people. Yet, as he often said, there could be no great disappointment where there was no great love. Once having rebuked whites for their prejudicial actions, King always forgave them their faults, seeking to channel the energy of whites' released guilt into resolve to take the immediate steps that—King ever maintained—would bring about America's final destiny.

As a Nation of Islam minister, Malcolm embraced the organization's teachings about the nature and origin of whites as inherently evil and oppressive. Even as a Nation zealot, though, Malcolm's words resonated with many non-NOI blacks, since he always insisted that objective analysis of the facts also showed whites' evil nature. Even later when acknowledging that individual whites could be sincere in desiring justice for African Americans, he still held that the facts demonstrated the undeniable collective evil of white society.

Malcolm was at his most electric when fearlessly denouncing whites for their evil deeds against African Americans. Presenting such facts as whites' enslavement, rape, and lynching of blacks, Malcolm made a compelling moral case against white America's past and present record. One writer called Malcolm chief witness for the prosecution when it came to finding the white race guilty of horrible crimes. Many non-NOI blacks, including many civil rights activists who disagreed with him about virtually everything% else, basically agreed with his diagnosis of white racist evil.

It was not just what Malcolm said that was so striking, moreover, but how he said it. His seething anger addressing whites was almost palpable; he spoke with passionate intensity in both voice and body language, often thrusting a challenging finger, as he denounced whites for their crimes.

I Have a Dream


King's most famous and widely quoted speech was made while standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was called to galvanize support for the Kennedy administration's newly introduced major civil rights bill, which would become the 1964 Civil Rights Act, ending legal racial segregation and discrimination. The speech is a prime example of King's critical brand of patriotism. True patriots, he ever held, must courageously protest present denials of liberty and fight to bring the nation's reality into line with its guiding principles. The speech's closing peroration, the famous `I have a dream" refrain, memorably declares King's faith in America's future.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Fivescore years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; one hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.

So we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all God's children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation Until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. This offense we share mounted to storm the battlements of injustice must be carried forth by a biracial army. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for whites only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of excessive trials and tribulation. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of the northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can, and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

So I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one -day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, that one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning — "my country 'tis of thee; sweet land of liberty; of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride; from every mountain side, let freedom ring"— and if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that.

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants—will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Every white man in America, when he looks into a black man's eyes, should fall to his knees and say '7'm sorry, I'm sorry—my kind has committed history's greatest crime against your kind; will you give me the chance to atone?" But do you . . . expect any white man to do that? No, you know better! And why won't he do it? Because he can't do it. The white man was created a devil, to bring chaos upon this earth.

—Malcolm X

The White Man Is a Devil: Statements on Whites 1965

"The White Man Is a Devil" consists of excerpts from the Autobiography that expressed Malcolm's attitude toward whites and white America in his period as a Nation zealot.

[Malcolm recalled his first basic talk as a new Nation of Islam minister]

The Rapist Slavemaster

"... my beautiful, black brothers and sisters! And when we say `black,' we mean everything not white, brothers and sisters! Because look at your skins! We're all black to the white man, but we're a thousand and one different colors. Turn around, look at each other! What shade of black African polluted by devil white man are you? You see me—well, in the streets they used to call me Detroit Red. Yes! Yes, that raping, red-headed devil was my grandfather! That close, yes! My mother's father! She didn't like to speak of it, can you blame her? She said she never laid eyes on him! She was glad for that! I'm glad for her! If I could drain away his blood that pollutes my body, and pollutes my complexion, I'd do it! Because I hate every drop of the rapist's blood that's in me!

'And it's not just me, its all of us! During slavery, think of it, it was a rare one of our black grandmothers, our great-grandmothers and our great-great-grandmothers who escaped the white rapist slavemaster. That rapist slavemaster who emasculated the black man.. . with threats, with fear.. until even today the black man lives with fear of the white man in his heart! Lives even today still under the heel of the white man!

"Think of it—think of that black slave man filled with fear and dread, hearing the screams of his wife, his mother, his daughter being taken—in the barn, the kitchen, in the bushes! Think of it my dear brothers and sisters! Think of hearing wives, mothers, daughters, being raped! And you were too filled with fear of the rapist to do anything about it And his vicious, animal attacks' offspring, this white man named things like 'mulatto' and 'quadroon' and 'octoroon' and all those other things that he has called us—you and me—when he is not calling us `nigger'!

"Turn around and look at each other, brothers and sisters, and think of this! You and me, polluted all these colors—and this devil has the arrogance and the gall to think we, his victims, should love him!"

I would become so choked up that sometimes I would walk in the streets until late into the night. Sometimes I would speak to no one for hours, thinking to myself about what the white man had done to our poor people here in America. . . .

[In this text, Malcolm described his attitude toward the whites whom he met and debated in his many press, radio, and television appearances as NOI spokesperson.]


. "Mr. Malcolm X, why do you teach black.supremacy, and hate?" A red flag waved for me, something chemical happened inside me, every time I heard that When we Muslims had talked about "the devil white man" he had been relatively abstract, someone we Muslims rarely actually came into contact with, but now here was that devil-in-the-flesh on the phone—with all of his calculating, cold-eyed, self-righteous tricks and nerve and gall. The voices questioning me became to me as breathing, living devils.

And I tried to pour on pure fire in return. "The white man so guilty of white supremacy can't hide his guilt by trying to accuse The Honorable Elijah Muhammad of teaching black supremacy and hate! All Mr. Muhammad is doing is trying to uplift the black man's mentality and the black man's social and economic condition in this country.

"The guilty, two-faced white man can't decide what he wants. Our slave foreparents would have been put to death for advocating so-called `integration' with the white man. Now when Mr. Muhammad speaks of `separation,' the white man calls us 'hate-teachers' and `fascists'!

"The white man doesn't want the blacks! He doesn't want the blacks that are a parasite upon him! He doesn't want this black man whose presence and condition in this country expose the white man to the world for what he is! So why do you attack Mr. Muhammad?"

I'd have scathing in my voice; I felt it

"For the white man to ask the black man if he hates him is just like the rapist asking the raped, or the wolf asking the sheep, 'Do you hate me?' The white man is in no moral position to accuse anyone else of hate! ..."

[Even while still a Nation fundamentalist, Malcolm sometimes for persuasive purposes stressed the collective, rather than individual, nature of white evil. Later, even after he had renounced the Nation's doctrine of innate white devilry, he still asserted that collectively white society, judged by its objective current and historical record, was demonstrably evil.]

The Collective White Man's Record

... An amazing percentage of the white letter-writers agreed entirely with Mr. Muhammad's analysis of the problem—but not with his solution. One odd ambivalence was how some letters, otherwise all but championing Mr. Muhammad, would recoil at the expression "white devils." I tried to explain this in subsequent speeches:

"Unless we call one white man, by name, a `devil,' we are not speaking of any individual white man. We are speaking of the collective white man's historical record. We are speaking of the collective white man's cruelties, and evils, and greeds, that have seen him act like a devil toward the non-white man. Any intelligent, honest, objective person cannot fail to realize that this white man's slave trade, and his subsequent devilish actions are directly responsible for not only the presence of this black man in America, but also for the condition in which we find this black man here. You cannot find one black man, I do not care who he is, who has not been personally damaged in some way by the devilish acts of the collective white man!"...

This white man—give him his due—has an extraordinary intelligence, an extraordinary cleverness.... You can hardly name a scientific problem he can't solve. Here he is now solving the problems of sending men exploring into outer space—and returning them safely to earth.

But in the arena of dealing with human beings, the white man's working intelligence is hobbled. His intelligence will fail him altogether if the humans happen to be non-white. The white man's emotions superseded his intelligence. He will commit against non-whites the most incredible spontaneous emotional acts, so psyche-deep is his "white superiority" complex.

Where was the A-bomb dropped ... "to save American lives"? Can the white man be so naive as to think the clear import of this ever will be lost upon the non-white two-thirds of the earth's population?...

Historically, the non-white complexion has evoked and exposed the "devil" in the very nature of the white man....

[Malcolm refused to make any substantial distinction between white southern segregationist conservatives and northern pro–civil rights liberals. Both were black people's enemies, he always taught; liberals were just more sly and deceptive.]

Pull Off That White liberal's Halo

. . . The Deep South white press generally blacked me out. But they front-paged what I felt about Northern white and black Freedom Riders going South to "demonstrate." I called it "ridiculous"; their own Northern ghettoes, right at home, had enough rats and roaches to kill to keep all of the Freedom Riders busy. I said that ultra-liberal New York had more integration problems than Mississippi. If the Northern Freedom Riders wanted more to do, they could work on the roots of such ghetto evils as the little children out in the streets at midnight, with apartment keys on strings around their necks to let themselves in, and their mothers and fathers drunk, drug addicts, thieves, prostitutes. Or the Northern Freedom Riders could light some fires under Northern city halls, unions, and major industries to give more jobs to Negroes to remove so many of them from the relief and welfare rolls, which created laziness, and which deteriorated the ghettoes into steadily worse places for humans to live. It was all—it is all—the absolute truth; but what did I want to say it for? Snakes couldn't have turned on me faster than the liberal.

Yes, I will pull off that liberal's halo that he spends such efforts cultivating! The North's liberals have been for so long pointing accusing fingers at the South and getting away with it that they have fits when they are exposed as the world's worst hypocrites.

I believe my own life mirrors this hypocrisy. I know nothing about the South. I am a creation of the Northern white man and of his hypocritical attitude toward the Negro.

The white Southerner was always given his due by Mr. Muhammad. The white Southerner, you can say one thing—he is honest He bares his teeth to the black man; he tells the black man, to his face, that Southern whites never will accept phony "integration." The Southern white goes further, to tell the black man that he means to fight him every inch of the way—against even the so-called "tokenism." The advantage of this is the Southern black man never has been under any illusions about the opposition he is dealing with.

. But the Northern white man, he grins with his teeth, and his mouth has always been full of tricks and lies of "equality" and "integration." When one day all over America, a black hand touched the white man's shoulder, and the white man turned, and there stood the Negro saying "Me, too . .." why, that Northern liberal shrank from that black man with as much guilt and dread as any Southern white man.

Actually, America's most dangerous and threatening black man is the one who has been kept sealed up by the Northerner in the black ghettoes—the Northern white power structure's system to keep talking democracy while keeping the black man out of sight somewhere, around the corner.

The word "integration" was invented by a Northern liberal. The word has no real meaning.... The truth is that "integration" is an image, its a foxy Northern liberal's smokescreen that confuses the true wants of the American black man... .

[This excerpt tells of a white college student who so strongly reacted to Malcolm's speech at her college that she flew to Harlem to ask Malcolm how she, a white, could make amends for the past and things better for blacks. Malcolm's response indicates his early categorical rejection of any aid or goodwill from whites. Later, near the end of his life (see chapter 6), Malcolm regretted the answer he gave the young woman here.]

"What Can I Do?" . . . I Told Her, "Nothing."

I never will forget one little blonde co-ed after I had spoken at her New England college. She must have caught the next plane behind that one I took to New York. She found the Muslim restaurant in Harlem. I just happened to be there when she came in....

Anyway, I'd never seen anyone I ever spoke before more affected than this little white college girl. She demanded, right up in my face, "Don't you believe there are any good white people?" I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I told her, "People's deeds I believe in, Miss—not their words."

"What can I do?" she exclaimed. I told her, "Nothing." She burst out crying, and ran out .

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