"I've told how debating was a weekly event there, at the Norfolk prison colony. My reading had my mind like steam under pressure. Some way, I had to start telling the white man about himself to his face. I decided I could do this by putting my name down to debate … Once my feet got wet, I was gone on debating. Whichever side of the selected subject was assigned to me, I'd track down and study everything I could find on it. I'd put myself in my opponents' place, ands decide how I'd try to win if I had the other side; I'd figure a way to knock down all those points." -Autobiography of Malcolm X , 1964



Program Elaboration

Malcolm X was a prolific debater during his time in prison. His exposure to a range of ideas and an opportunity to engage others are viewed as key elements in his transformation from a convict into one of the foremost civil rights leaders of modern times. The IMPACT Coalition wishes to offer opportunities for debate to members of this same population by forming a new outreach initiative.

The Malcolm X Prison Debate Series provides inmates with opportunities to compete in debate in a prison setting.

The June 2003 issue of Youth Today chronicled that, "…a sample of youthful offenders scheduled for release found that 58% had a special education disability, 69% had a history of substance abuse and 63% had been placed in an alternative living arrangement, such as foster care, prior to their incarceration". The creation of post-release options requires that these students develop methods for articulating their needs and alternative methods for dispute resolution that engage their mouths before their fists. For inmates at Riker’s Island, IMPACT:

  • Offers a 16 week training in public speaking and debating techniques with the goal of creating a debate team that can enter various competitions
  • Creates and implements curriculum that will allow students to enter a “fair fight” without fists, sharpen their public speaking abilities, and to be introduced to debating techniques.
  • Engages graduates of “Fresh Start” into debating and public speaking activities upon their release from Rikers Island.


History about Malcom and Debate

1946 Malcolm is sentenced to 8-10 years for armed robbery; serves 6 ½ years at Charlestown, MA State Prison.

Beginning in the 1960s, Malcolm was invited to participate in numerous debates, including forums on radio stations (Los Angeles, New York, Washington), television programs (“Open Mind,” “The Mike Wallace News Program”) and universities (Harvard Law School, Howard University, Columbia University).


One Visit To Riker's Island

  • Relevant Links

Link to info on Malcolm X: http://www.cmgww.com/historic/malcolm/home.php

  • Prison Debate Program Links

University of GA (http://www.uga.edu/~spc/debate/prison/) Members of the Georgia Debate Union have been working with a group of inmates at the Lee Arrendale prison in Alto Georgia. The program developed in response to a prisoner's request to establish a debate team after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X. The debaters at the prison meet on a regular basis and debate a variety of public policy questions. The UGA squad members participate in exhibition debates, lecture on debate principles and judge debates. In April of 2004, our debaters judged the first competitive prison debate tournament. From all reports, both UGA debaters and the inmates enjoyed the tournament experience.



"Standing up there, the faces looking up at me, the things in my head coming out of my mouth, while my brain searched for the next best thing to follow what I was saying, and if I could sway them to my side by handling it right, then I had won the debate--once my feet got wet, I was gone on debating."

'I Was Gone on Debating': Malcolm X's Prison Debates and Public Confrontations,"