21 Of The Most Profound Malcolm X Quotes

Published May 17, 2016
Updated November 9, 2023

The 1950s and 1960s tested the will of many who lived through them. As Cold War fears expanded the United States’ presence overseas, millions at home demanded the expansion of basic civil rights to all Americans. One of the key figures behind the domestic agitation was Malcolm X.

In his brief life (he was killed at age 39), Malcolm X — née Malcolm Little — spearheaded a civil rights movement that challenged mainstream movements championed by Martin Luther King Jr., mainly in terms of his “by any means necessary” approach to effecting systemic change.

Combining black nationalism and the Muslim faith, X’s work and words expanded the possibilities of resistance — and laid the groundwork for the Black Power movement. Gain a little insight into the man with the twenty-one insightful Malcolm X quotes below:

Malcolm X Quotes
"Early in life I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise." (From The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Envy blinds men and makes it impossible for them to think clearly.” (Told to Alex Haley)

Photo: YouTube

Reading The Koran
“You don't have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.” (Date unknown)

Photo: Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Malcolm X Quotes On Education
"Without education, you're not going anywhere in this world." (New York City, May 29, 1964)

Photo: Bettman/Getty Images

Words And Quotes Of MalcolmX
"Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression." (Date unknown)

Photo: Generation Rose/Flickr

At Home
"Concerning nonviolence: it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks." (From Malcolm X Speaks)

Photo: Bettman/Getty Images

Malcolm X Quotes On The Media
“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” (1963)

Photo: YouTube

Malcolm X Smiling
“Truth is on the side of the oppressed.” (Harlem, May 29, 1964)

Photo: Keystone Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On People's Freedom
“You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” (New York City, January 7, 1965)

Photo: Richard Saunders/Getty Images

Outside Of His House
"I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn’t want brotherhood with me.” (New York City, December 12, 1964)

Photo: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Learning From Failure
“Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” (From the speech “Democracy is Hypocrisy”)

Photo: Tell Me What/Flickr

On Critics
“If you have no critics you'll likely have no success.” (Date unknown)

Photo: Saunders/Getty Images

Malcolm X Civil Rights Quote
"If you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary." (From the Chicago Defender, November 28, 1962)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Interview With Malcolm X
"If we don't stand for something, we may fall for anything." (Date unknown)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mural Of Malcolm X
"Anytime you see someone more successful than you are, they are doing something you aren't." (From The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

Photo: Library of Congress

Malcolm X Quote On Voting
"A ballot is like a bullet. You don't throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not in reach, keep your ballot in your pocket." (From the speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Malcolm X's Daughter
"History is a people's memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals." (1964)

Photo: Bettman/Getty Images

Malcolm X On Violence
“I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man's problem just to avoid violence.” (From The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

Photo: JBrazito/Flickr

Smiling During A Speech
“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” (Detroit, November 10, 1963)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bringing Change
“Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” (Harlem, December 20, 1964)

Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images

Martin Luther King And Malcolm X
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” (Date unknown)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For more, watch these Malcolm X speeches on race, police brutality and the role of the media:

Next, learn about these lesser-known black leaders and discover these surprising facts about Martin Luther King.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.