By any means necessary

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This poster, based on a famous photograph from Ebony, popularized the slogan.

By any means necessary is a translation of a phrase used by French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre in his play Dirty Hands. It entered the popular civil rights culture through a speech given by Malcolm X at the Organization of Afro-American Unity founding rally on June 28, 1964. It is generally considered to leave open all available tactics for the desired ends, including violence; however, the “necessary” qualifier adds a caveat—if violence is not necessary, then presumably, it should not be used.

Jean-Paul Sartre[edit]

The phrase is translation of a sentence used in French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre's play Dirty Hands:

I was not the one to invent lies: they were created in a society divided by class and each of us inherited lies when we were born. It is not by refusing to lie that we will abolish lies: it is by eradicating class by any means necessary.

— Jean-Paul Sartre, Dirty Hands: act 5, scene 3. 1963[1]

Malcolm X[edit]

It entered the popular culture through a speech given by Malcolm X in the last year of his life.

We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.

— Malcolm X, 1965[2]

Mandela case[edit]

In the final scene of the 1992 movie Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela—recently released after 27 years of political imprisonment—appears as a schoolteacher in a Soweto classroom.[3][4] Yet Mandela informed director Spike Lee that he could not utter the famous final phrase "by any means necessary" on camera; fearing that the apartheid government would use it against him if he did. Lee obliged, and the final seconds of the film feature black-and-white footage of Malcolm X himself delivering the phrase.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NUMBER: 48220". The Columbia World of Quotations. Archived from the original on 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2007-01-28.
  2. ^ Malcolm X (1992). By Any Means Necessary (Malcolm X Speeches & Writings). New York: Pathfinder Press. ISBN 0-87348-754-0.
  3. ^ Cunningham, Matthew (3 June 2004). "Creme cameos". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  4. ^ a b Guerrero, Ed (1993). Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film. Temple University Press. p. 202. ISBN 1-56639-126-1.