The Ballot or the Bullet

A Question of Appeal: Rhetorical Analysis of Malcolm X and MLK 11th Grade

As outspoken leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. urged black Americans to pursue equality with uncompromising dignity; however, each held a distinct opinion about the proper methods and the purpose of such action. In his impassioned speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” X directly addresses the listener, advocating for the “reciprocation” of violence in the name of equality and self-respect. Decrying the American government, he makes clear his emphatic stance against the brutality of the white establishment. Conversely, in King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he exalts the instances of civil disobedience carried out by nonviolent protestors, maintaining that when preexisting tension is brought to light, the resulting outcry will lead to widespread change. King’s letter employs a persistent appeal to mainstream Christian, American values, a strict adherence to nonviolence, and a readiness to work within established systems. This consideration of deep-seated social mores widens the accessibility of his arguments and thus makes his rhetorical stance more effective than X’s more revolutionary ideology.

X’s speech seeks to empathize with politically disillusioned African Americans and offer the...

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