A celebration of iconic leaders and civil rights activists.
Black History Month, also commonly known as African-American History Month, is celebrated in many countries around the world including the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, to recognize the greatest leaders, events and important contributions of African Americans throughout history.
Originally created in the 1920s as “Negro History Week” by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and later — in the 1970s, starting at Kent State University — president Gerald Ford expanded the event to an entire month. Celebrated in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, president Ford explained that the United States needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Today, Black History Month is a time used to recognize the world’s greatest African-American leaders in all walks of life. From Thurgood Marshall, who was the first African American ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, to Madam C.J. Walker – the world’s first African-American self-made millionaire, to Barack Obama – the first African-American president in U.S. history, who was re-elected to serve for two consecutive terms in the White House.
In celebration of February being Black History Month, we’ve gathered 75 of the best African-American quotes, inspirational facts and motivational sayings about race, equality and love from some of the most influential leaders in American history.
Take a look back to honor some of the world’s greatest civil rights activists who worked to make the country a better, safer and more equal place.
1. Anything is possible.
”Yes we can!” — Barack Obama
2. In honor of the great leaders of the past.
”We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.” — Yvette Clarke
3. Frederick Douglass from slavery in Maryland and became a leader of the abolitionist movement.
”If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” — Frederick Douglass
4. Susan Taylor is a writer and journalist who served as served as editor-in-chief of Essence.
”Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.” — Susan L. Taylor
5. The leader of civil rights movement from 1954-68.
”The time is always right to do what is right.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
6. Advisor to presidents of the United States and an American educator.
”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
7. Hughes was a columnist and American poet.
”Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” — Langston Hughes
8. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work; it’s about forging consensus, and fighting cynicism, and finding the will to make change.” — Barack Obama
9. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space.
”Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” — Dr. Mae Jemison
10. An American Muslim minister and human rights activist.
”It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.” — Malcolm X
11. Marcus Garvey was the leader of the Pan-Africanism movement and a Jamaican-born black nationalist.
”If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” — Marcus Garvey
12. Graves is a philanthropist and founder of Black Enterprise magazine.
“Hold on to your dreams of a better life and stay committed to striving to realize it.” — Earl G. Graves, Sr.
13. Robinson was a leader of the Civil Rights movement in Selma, Alabama.
”You can never know where you are going unless you know where you have been.” — Amelia Boynton Robinson
14. Bethune started a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida, that still operates today.
”For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart.” — Mary McLeod Bethune
15. Maya Angelou was a poet and civil rights activist best known for her1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
”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
16. We may have different religions, different languages and different colored skin, but we all belong to the human race. — Kofi Anan
“It’s not about color. It’s about love.” — Unknown
17. Everyone deserves freedom and equality.
”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
18. Although widely celebrated, some believe Black History shouldn’t be limited to only a month out of the year.
”I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.“ — Morgan Freeman
19. So many people have fought to stand their ground.
”The African race is a rubber ball. The harder you dash it to the ground, the higher it will rise.” — African Proverb
20. Douglass wrote several autobiographies, most famous of which was Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.
”You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.“ — Frederick Douglass
21. Black Lives Matter is a member-let organization and activist movement that campaigns against violence and racism.
“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
22. It’s important to fight for what you rightly deserve.
”I swear to the Lord I still can’t see why democracy means everybody but me.” — Langston Hughes
23. Moseley-Braun was the first female African-American Senator.
”Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.” — Carol Moseley-Braun
24. West is an American philosopher and political activist.
”Black people have always been America’s wilderness in search of a promised land.” — Cornel West
25. It’s about doing what’s right.
”There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.” — Frederick Douglass
26. Sometimes people are blinded by societal norms and fail to see the big picture.
”Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.” — Barbara Jordan
27. It’s time to accept responsibility.
”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
28. Washington founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, now known as Tuskegee University.
”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
29. We have to learn to love one another.
”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.
30. Always dream, and know those dreams are within reach.
”Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman
31. Woodson was founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
”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 Woodson
32. Make a difference in the world.
”Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
33. Don’t settle for being discriminated against.
“I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem, and I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds.” — Barack Obama
34. Fight for what you believe in.
”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
35. It’s easy to see that somewhere along the way we’ve chosen the wrong path.
”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
36. Learn from the past and be better.
”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.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
37. Stand up in the face of injustice.
”There comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
38. Take freedom and make it yours.
”Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” — Malcolm X
39. Carver was an inventor and agricultural scientist.
”Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” — George Washington Carver
40. Our differencs are what makes us human.
“Can we see in each other a common humanity, a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?” — Barack Obama
41. Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who became an African-American abolitionist.
”When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything.” — Harriet Tubman
42. Change needs to happen now. In our lifetime.
”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
43. Colvin is a nurse and a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement.
”I knew then and I know now, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it.” — Claudette Colvin
44. Everything is connected, and the fight is only just beginning.
“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
45. When is it time we recognized our accomplishments as they are, and not based on the color of our skin?
”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
46. We need to see the bigger picture.
“With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just to opponents, but to enemies.” — Barack Obama
47. Build on the backs of your ancestors.
”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
48. Audre Lorde was a feminist writer and civil rights activist.
”When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — Audre Lorde
49. Never lose hope.
”If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
50. Keep on pushing and working for what’s right.
“Go to work! Go to work in the morn of a new creation… until you have… reached the height of self-progress, and from that pinnacle bestow upon the world a civilization of your own.” — Marcus Garvey
51. Diversity is beautiful.
”Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.” — Ola Joseph
52. Fight for and take what you deserve.
”Freedom is never given; it is won.” — A. Philip Randolph
53. Thomas was is a philanthropist who was president of the Ford Foundation.
”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
54. Nobody gives you power. You just take it.
”Character is power.” — Booker T. Washington
55. Michelle Obama served as the First Lady of the United States and is a writer and a lawyer.
”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
56. Only love can win over all.
”Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
57. We can be better.
“I believe our sorrow can make us a better country. I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace.” — Barack Obama
58. Use your (limited) time wisely.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” — Mother Theresa
59. Love trumps everything.
“Love is not a color. Character is not a shade of skin.” — Unknown
60. What are you doing for your fellow man and woman?
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?‘” — Martin Luther King Jr.
61. We may not be able to change everyone’s minds, but we can raise a better generation to follow us.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass
62. Start at the beginning. The root of the problem.
“Before we start talking about genetic differences, you gotta come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity. Then we can have that conversation.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson
63. Freedom and equality is worth fighting for.
“No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
64. Welcome the good things in to your life and learn to forgive so we can all move forward.
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” — Maya Angelou
65. Wrong is wrong.
“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
66. There are some things they can’t take away, no matter how much injustice there is in the world.
“The soul that is within me no man can degrade.” — Frederick Douglass
67. Remember what’s important and be a leader in all parts of your life.
“To serve, you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
68. Build a strong foundation so you have the support you need to get higher.
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X
69. Peace and freedom go hand-in-hand.
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” — Malcolm X
70. It’s the simple things that make all the difference.
“Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn life around.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
71. Keep working, keep trying, keep loving, keep going.
“While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.” — Maya Angelou
72. The truth will reign supreme.
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
73. To make a difference you have to be the difference.
“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” — Frederick Douglass
74. Do you know what we call opinion in the absence of evidence? We call it prejudice. ― Michael Crichton
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” — Maya Angelou
75. To get to where we need to be, we have to love first.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, we’ve got the best quotes to share and savor. For quotes from the most inspiring celebs, activists, and poets, look no further! You might even find the quote that motivates the best parts of your life (and love!) forever.
Kayla Cavanagh is an editor and writer living in Central Florida, focusing on quotes, current events and love and relationship topics.