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February is Black History Month and we’ve put together the most inspiring quotes from a diverse set of black leaders ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Shirley Chisholm (first Black woman elected to U.S, Congress) to Muhammed Ali and dozens of other black leaders. These strong and inspiring role models have left a mark on our country with their insightful words and historic speeches.
The month honors African American people’s rich range of experiences, struggles and achievements throughout history and into the modern day.
Share these quotes with your friends, family and co workers to celebrate Black History Month. Take the time to discuss the impact each of these famous role models had on American culture and their role and impact on history.
The Most Inspiring Black History Month Quotes
- ”We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.” —Yvette Clarke
- “The time is always right to do what is right.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
—Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut
- “Have a vision of excellence, a dream of success, and work like hell.” —Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook
- “Today we know with certainty that segregation is dead. The only question remaining is how costly will be the funeral.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “’We, the people.’ It is a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth 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
- “I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving up.” —Rosa Parks
- “Anyone who claims to be a leader must speak like a leader. That means speaking with integrity and truth.” –Kamala Harris
- “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
- 3. “The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.”
—W.E.B. Du Bois
- “Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.”
—Carol Moseley-Braun, politician and lawyer
- “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 Thomas, activist, philanthropist, and former president of the Ford Foundation
- “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”—Desmond Tutu
- “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” —Langston Hughes
- “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
- “Have a vision. Be demanding.” —Colin Powell
- “Freedom is never given; it is won.”
—A. Philip Randolph, civil rights activist
- “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
—Booker T. Washington
- “We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.”
—Jesse Owens, world record-setting Olympic athlete
- “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.” —Rosa Parks
- “Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” —Ella Fitzgerald
- “If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything… that smacks of discrimination or slander.” —Mary McLeod Bethune
- “Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.” —William Lloyd Garrison
- “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” —Muhammad Ali
- “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
—Thurgood Marshall, first African American U.S. Supreme Court member
- “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.”
—Coretta Scott King
- “Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.”
—Susan L. Taylor, journalist
- “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” —Nelson Mandela
- “The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.” —Maya Angelou
- “Truth is powerful and it prevails.” —Sojourner Truth
- “I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” —Michael Jordan
- “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama
- “Hold on to your dreams of a better life and stay committed to striving to realize it.” —Earl G. Graves, Sr.
- “Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” —Maya Angelou
- “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” —Morgan Freeman
- “It’s important for us to also understand that the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed. It’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter. It’s to suggest that other folks aren’t experiencing this particular vulnerability.” —Barack Obama
- ”I swear to the Lord I still can’t see why democracy means everybody but me.” —Langston Hughes
- “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or rat in a trap. I had already determined to sell my life as early as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one lyncher with me, this would even up the score a little bit.” —Ida B. Wells
- “I’m not quite sure what freedom is, but I know damn well what it ain’t. How have we gotten so silly, I wonder.” —Assata Shakur
- “I knew then and I know now, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it.” —Claudette Colvin
- “During Black History Month, I’m reminded yet again of the ways that the struggle for civil rights is interwoven with the struggle for workers’ rights.” —Tom Perez
- “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.” —Maya Angelou
- “Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.” —Ola Joseph
- “Character is power.” —Booker T. Washington
- “One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.” —Michelle Obama
- “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” —Mother Teresa
- “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” —Malcolm X
- “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.” —Frederick Douglass
- “I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.” —Muhammad Ali
- “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” —Abraham Joshua Heschel
- 52. “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.
- “If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” —Marcus Garvey
- “There comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “If the only time you think of me as a scientist is during Black History Month, then I must not be doing my job as a scientist.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson
- “Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.” —Oprah Winfrey
- “When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” —Ava DuVernay
- “I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.” —Serena Williams
- “As black women, we’re always given these seemingly devastating experiences — experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as black women is take the worst situations and create from that point.” —Viola Davis
- 60. “Dreams are lovely but they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” —Shonda Rhimes
- “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” —Jackie Robinson
- “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” —Shirley Chisholm
- “I’m hungry for knowledge. The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter. That’s what this world is about. You look at someone like Gandhi, and he glowed. Martin Luther King glowed. Muhammad Ali glows. I think that’s from being bright all the time, and trying to be brighter.” —Jay-Z
- “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” —Muhammad Ali
- “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou
- “We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.” —Aretha Franklin
- “The thing about black history is that the truth is so much more complex than anything you could make up.” —Henry Louis Gates
- “Black History Month must be more than just a month of remembrance; it should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead.” —Marty Meehan
- “Black history isn’t a separate history. This is all of our history, this is American history, and we need to understand that. It has such an impact on kids and their values and how they view black people.” —Karyn Parsons
- “Don’t agonize, organize.” —Florynce Kennedy
- “A man without knowledge of himself and his heritage is like a tree without roots.” —Dick Gregory
- “If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” —James Baldwin
- “We have a wonderful history behind us…and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” —Carter G. Woodson
- “When I look at the future, it’s so bright it burns my eyes.” —Oprah Winfrey
- “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” —Alice Walker
- “You are your best thing.” —Toni Morrison
- “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” —Ijoema Oluo
- “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” —John Lewis
- “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” —Alice Walker
- “I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black; it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect.” —June Jordan
- “I need to see my own beauty and to continue to be reminded that I am enough, that I am worthy of love without effort, that I am beautiful, that the texture of my hair and that the shape of my curves, the size of my lips, the color of my skin, and the feelings that I have are all worthy and okay.” —Tracee Ellis Ross
- “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.” —Nina Simone
- “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.” —Janelle Monáe
- “You are where you are today because you stand on somebody’s shoulders. And wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself. If you stand on the shoulders of others, you have a reciprocal responsibility to live your life so that others may stand on your shoulders. It’s the quid pro quo of life. We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.” —Vernon Jordan
- “If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.” —Beyonce Knowles
- “Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. Thy claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.” —Kwame Nkrumah
- “I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” —Madam C.J. Walker
- “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” —Ida B. Wells
- “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.” —Harriet Tubman
- “Make a difference about something other than yourselves.” —Toni Morrison
- “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” —Arthur Ashe
- “God’s time [Emancipation]is always near. He set the North Star in the heavens; He gave me the strength in my limbs; He meant I should be free.” —Harriet Tubman
- “The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up.” —Mae C. Jemison
- “Whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free . . . your true self comes out.” —Tina Turner
- “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” —Toni Morrison
- “There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.” —Michelle Obama
- “The impatient idealist says: ‘Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth.’ But such a place does not exist. We all have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace.” —Chinua Achebe
- “If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.” —Carl Lewis
- “Stretch your mind and fly.” —Whitney M. Young Jr
- “Don’t let anything stop you. There will be times when you’ll be disappointed, but you can’t stop.” —Sadie T. M. Alexander
- “Life has two rules: number 1, never quit! Number 2, always remember rule number one.” —Duke Ellington
- “Be as you are and hope that it’s right.” —Dizzy Gillespie
- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself—the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us—that’s where it’s at.” —Jesse Owens
- “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” —Wilma Rudolph
- “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
- “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope… and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” —Robert F. Kennedy
- “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
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- “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” —Nelson Mandela
- “One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” —James Earl Jones
- “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” —Nelson Mandela
- “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” —Martin Luther King Jr.
- “The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less.” —Eldridge Cleaver
- “There is no vaccine for racism.” —Kamala Harris
- “Do we care to match the reality of America to its ideals?” —Barack Obama
- “We will all, at some point, encounter hurdles to gaining access and entry, moving up and conquering self-doubt; but on the other side is the capacity to own opportunity and tell our own story.” —Stacey Abrams
Related: Michelle Obama on Hope, Fear and Moving Forward
Video – 3 year old Blows Away audience with poem for Black History Month
This is a fun video from a local Chicago tv channel.
Meet 3-year-old Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem from Bronzeville! Take a look of her performing “Hey, Black Child” on Windy City Live!