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Quotations for Black History Month
For Africa to me... is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place. ~Maya Angelou, “‘For Years, We Hated Ourselves,’” in The New York Times, 1972 [article on Eliot Elisofon’s “Black American Heritage” —tg]
For I am my mother's daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart. ~Mary McLeod Bethune
We should emphasize not Negro History but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. ~Carter G. Woodson, 1926
Who are we? We are the descendants of slaves. We are the offspring of noble men and women who were kidnapped from their native land and chained in ships like beasts. We are the heirs of a great and exploited continent known as Africa. We are the heirs of a past of rope, fire and murder. I for one am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us. But we are also Americans. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is forbidden to tell anything that has no foundation. ~Kanuri proverb
The African race is a rubber ball. The harder you dash it to the ground, the higher it will rise. ~African proverb
...Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
~Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise," 1978
Ridiculous... You're gonna relegate my history to a month?... Which month is White History Month?... Which month is Jewish History Month?... I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history. ~Morgan Freeman, to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, 2006
History in the final analysis is the compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography and it is the clock they use to tell the cultural and political time of day. History tells a people where they have been and what they have been; where they are and what they are. Most important, history tells a people where they still must go and what they still must be. ~John Henrik Clarke, "African People in World History," 1982
I swear to the Lord
I still can't see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me...
~Langston Hughes, "The Black Man Speaks," Jim Crow's Last Stand, 1943
For years Blacks were immersed in cocoons of self‐revilement... Africa, to Blacks at the time, was that dreaded dark and pagan land well lost in the past and better forgotten... Africa, to nearly all whites, was a place better left to the painted savages... Then in the mid‐fifties there was the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa and the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. Ghana won its independence and suddenly there were beautifully gowned black men at the United Nations who spoke English (surprise, real English) and Black Americans were jolted into observing themselves again and this time in a historically new way. Then along came Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, [etc]... Black students began to insist on courses in African and Black American history. Their demands ranged from requests to riots. They asked, “If Black is Beautiful, where has it been all this time?” ~Maya Angelou, “‘For Years, We Hated Ourselves,’” in The New York Times, 1972
In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly. ~James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son, 1955
Perseverance is everything. ~Yoruba proverb
If you cain't bear no crosses, you cain't wear no crown. ~African-American saying
We need to haunt the halls of history and listen anew to the ancestors' wisdom. We must ask questions and find answers that will help us to avoid falling into the merciless maw of history. ~Maya Angelou, "I Dare To Hope," 1991
Through avalanches of prejudices; industrial barriers; professional intrigues; legal technicalities; diplomatic effronteries, and political buffetings, the American Negro has, at last arrived before the public eye, as a factor not easily to be evaded. ~Mitchell Davis, One Hundred Choice Quotations by Prominent Men and Women of the Negro Race, 1917
The people of the Piney Grove establishment, both white and black, had been free for nearly a generation. The whites had been freed from the curse of being slave-holders, and the blacks had been freed from the curse of being held in bondage. ~Silas X. Floyd (1869–1923), "Thanksgiving at Piney Grove," Floyd's Flowers: or, Duty and Beauty for Colored Children, 1905
In overthrowing me, only the trunk of the tree of negro liberty has been cut down; its branches will shoot up again, for its roots are numerous and deep. ~Toussaint Louverture (c.1743–1803)
It is the misfortune of men of African descent to be heavily shadowed by a cloud, and they must wait to have it dispelled before they can be properly seen, either by themselves or by others. Suspicion of the presence of a drop of African blood in the veins of a man, however able and distinguished, is a blight and mildew upon his life for American society.... His race is hated and his color is crime. The verdict of both court and country is against him in advance of evidence or argument...
There are few things in the world more blinding than race prejudice, and there are but few things more inflexible and persistent. Against the claims of truth and justice, to say nothing of brotherly kindness, it stands like a wall of brass. Reason and common sense dash themselves against it in vain. Individual men have risen and are rising above it, but the masses are ever under its sway and direction.... neither Irishman, Jew, nor Chinaman is fully included in the high human circle; but the fiercest wrath of this race prejudice is reserved for men and women of African blood. ~Frederick Douglass, "Toussaint L'Ouverture," c.1890
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties...
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
~Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906), "We Wear the Mask"
One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings. ~Franklin A. Thomas, 1982
This is our country, as much as it is the country of any other race... We may be the descendants of Africans, but we are citizens of the United States. This is our home... ~Silas X. Floyd (1869–1923), "Our Country," Floyd's Flowers: or, Duty and Beauty for Colored Children, 1905
I am an invisible man... I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me... That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality. ~Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952
There were in the midst of Northern society forces and influences continually at work misrepresenting the Negro. Art lent its fascinating, but mischievous, pencil to paint him in form and features most repulsive. Northern people traveling through the South have discovered that we are not so bad looking after all. I say it, and I say it without fear of successful contradiction, that many of the handsomest citizens the United States can boast of to‑day have the warm blood of Africa coursing through their veins. ~William H. Crogman (1841–1931), address delivered at the anniversary of the Freedmen's Aid Society, 1883 August 13th, Ocean Grove, New Jersey [a little altered —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]
American means white, and Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with ethnicity and hyphen after hyphen after hyphen. ~Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, 1992
All the negro asks is that the door which rewards industry, thrift, intelligence and character be left as wide open for him as for the foreigner who constantly comes to our country. More than this he has no right to request. Less than this a republic has no right to withhold. ~Booker T. Washington, 1904 February 12th, Armstrong Association meeting, New York City
Our responsibility as citizens is to address the inequalities and injustices that linger, and we must secure our birthright freedoms for all people. As we mark the 40th year of National African American History Month, let us reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African Americans, and let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ~Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation — National African American History Month, 2016
For generations, the story of American progress has been shaped by the inextinguishable beliefs that change is always possible and a brighter future lies ahead. With tremendous strength and abiding resolve, our ancestors — some of whom were brought to this land in chains — have woven their resilient dignity into the fabric of our Nation and taught us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history. It was these truths that found expression as foot soldiers and Freedom Riders sat in and stood up, marched and agitated for justice and equality. This audacious movement gave birth to a new era of civil and voting rights, and slowly, we renewed our commitment to an ideal at the heart of our founding: no matter who you are, what you look like, how modest your beginnings, or the circumstances of your birth, you deserve every opportunity to achieve your God-given potential. ~Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation — National African American History Month, 2015
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daylight of peace can never become a reality. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights... we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mother and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whom; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963 April 16th
There are people who place a basket on your head to see what you carry. ~Wolof proverb
The big bee flies high, the little bee makes the honey; the black folks makes the cotton, and the white folks get the money. ~African-American saying
Been down so long, down don't worry me. ~African-American saying
You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man. ~Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845
Assuring full citizenship rights to Afro-Americans is the duty and responsibility of the State, but securing them is the task of the Negro; it is the task of Labor and the progressive and liberal forces of the nation. Freedom is never given; it is won. And the Negro people must win their freedom. They must achieve justice. This involves struggle, continuous struggle. Neither freedom nor justice is ever a final and complete fact... ~A. Philip Randolph, President of the National Negro Congress, "The Crisis of the Negro and the Constitution," 1937
Black people have always been in America's wilderness in search of a promised land. ~Cornel West, "The Loss of Hope," in Dissent, 1991
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. ~Frederick Douglass
In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress. ~Booker T. Washington, address delivered at the opening of the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, 1895
The United States has been called the melting pot of the world. But it seems to me that the colored man either missed getting into the pot or he got melted down. ~Thurgood Marshall
Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. ~W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? ~W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. ~W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face. ~W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
The shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia the Shadowy and of the Egypt the Sphinx. Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness. ~W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people... ~W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
We seldom study the condition of the Negro to-day honestly and carefully. It is so much easier to assume that we know it all. Or perhaps, having already reached conclusions in our own minds, we are loth to have them disturbed by facts. ~W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "On the Quest of the Golden Fleece," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
Earlier today we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, "We, the people." It is a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787 I was not included in that "We, the people." I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision I have finally been included in "We, the people." ~Barbara Jordan, 1974
I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving up. ~Rosa Parks, unverified
Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. ~Paul Robeson, 1956
I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free — there was such a glory over everything, the sun came like gold through the trees and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven! ~Harriet Tubman
...let's celebrate Juneteenth as a day when America became a more perfect union... and remember the stories of those who have shaped ideas of justice and freedom today. ~Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, June 19th 2019, National Park Service, nps.gov
When the Negro was completely an underdog, he needed white spokesmen. Liberals played their parts in this period exceedingly well. In assault after assault, they led the intellectual revolt against racism, and took the initiative in founding the civil rights organizations. But now that the Negro has rejected his role as the underdog, he has become more assertive in his search for identity and group solidarity; he wants to speak for himself. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, "There lived a great people — a black people — who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization." This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Negro is the child of two cultures — Africa and America. The problem is that in the search for wholeness all too many Negroes seek to embrace only one side of their natures. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
The majority of the Negroes who took part in the year-long boycott of Montgomery's buses were poor and untutored; but they understood the essence of the Montgomery movement. One elderly woman summed it up for the rest. When asked after several weeks of walking whether she was tired, she answered: "My feet is tired, but my soul is at rest." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
This Month gives black Americans a wonderful opportunity to review their roots, their achievements and their projections; and it provides for all Americans a chance to rejoice and express pride in a heritage that adds so much to our way of life... Calling attention to the contributions of black people to our overall progress and development, the month of February thus serves to build goodwill and understanding between all people. It gives each of us a keener appreciation of an important part of the priceless legacy which Americans of every creed, color and national origin are fortunate to share. ~Jimmy Carter, Message of the President — National Afro-American History Month, 1978
Black history is a book rich with the American experience but with many pages yet unexplored. A chapter once beautiful and tragic was brilliantly illuminated this very year with the first celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a national holiday. This new holiday symbolizes the trail he blazed for others and the struggle of many Americans for full and unfettered recognition of the constitutional rights of all Americans, regardless of race or color. ~Ronald Reagan, Proclamation — National Black (Afro-American) History Month, 1986
The foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity. It is also a time to celebrate the many achievements of blacks in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion. It not only offers black Americans an occasion to explore their heritage, but it also offers all Americans an occasion and opportunity to gain a fuller perspective of the contributions of black Americans to our Nation. The American experience and character can never be fully grasped until the knowledge of black history assumes its rightful place in our schools and our scholarship. ~Ronald Reagan, Proclamation —National Black (Afro-American) History Month, 1986
During African American History Month and throughout the year, we must embrace the diverse strands of our story so that all children can see themselves in our Nation's past and know that they have a role to play in seizing the future's countless opportunities. ~William J. Clinton, Proclamation — National African American History Month, 1996
Understanding the history of black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation. Their struggles, achievements and perseverance help us understand the moral fiber of America and our commitment to freedom, equality and justice. ~Ronald Reagan, Message on the Observance of National Afro-American (Black) History Month, 1981
The story of African Americans is a story of resilience and perseverance. ~Barack Obama, Proclamation — National African American History Month, 2012
Americans have long celebrated our Nation as a beacon of liberty and opportunity — home to patriots who threw off an empire, refuge to multitudes who fled oppression and despair. Yet we must also remember that while many came to our shores to pursue their own measure of freedom, hundreds of thousands arrived in chains. Through centuries of struggle, and through the toil of generations, African Americans have claimed rights long denied. During National African American History Month, we honor the men and women at the heart of this journey — from engineers of the Underground Railroad to educators who answered a free people's call for a free mind, from patriots who proved that valor knows no color to demonstrators who gathered on the battlefields of justice and marched our Nation toward a brighter day. ~Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation — National African American History Month, 2014
Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble ~John Lewis, @repjohnlewis, tweet, 2018
published 2002 Sep 19
revised 2021 Jan 19
last saved 2022 Jun 20