Take a moment to learn about a few of America's most influential Black leaders.

By Emily VanSchmus
January 27, 2021

Black History Month is a time to recognize the important role of Black individuals in American history and celebrate their achievements while acknowledging that there is still work to be done in the movement toward racial equality. To help you reflect on what Black History Month means, we've rounded up some of the most moving quotes from influential Black figures. From civil rights activists to world leaders, these individuals have paved the way for the future of our country. 

Keep in mind that learning about these leaders is only the start—and learning about Black history shouldn't be limited to just the month of February. If you're looking for somewhere to start, consider picking up a book by a Black female author (these are a few of our favorites!) or educating yourself about a prominent civil rights activist (here are five resources to help you learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). 

As you read through these quotes, reflect on what the words mean to the Black community, and how you can use them to further educate yourself.

“We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.” – U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke of New York

A Brooklyn native, Yvette Clarke currently serves as a U.S. Representative for the state of New York. She created the Multicultural Media Caucus and is a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. 

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” – Malcom X, Human Rights Activist

As a Black Muslim minister, Malcom X was heavily involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He was assassinated on February 21, 1965, in New York City.

“History has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama, First Black First Lady

While Michelle Obama is best known for being the first Black First Lady of the United States, she is also an attorney and author. Her best-selling book Becoming ($12, Target) has sold over 14 million copies worldwide.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist

After being born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass escaped and became a leader of the abolitionist movement. He became known for his autobiographies about life as a slave, and in 1872 he became the first Black man nominated to be the Vice President of the United States.

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” –  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Activist

Perhaps most famous for his I Have a Dream Speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil rights leader in the mid-1900s. In 1963 he helped organize the March on Washington where he delivered the iconic speech and in 1964 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-racism work. He was assassinated in 1968 while organizing a national civil rights occupation of Washington D.C.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” – Dr. Mae Jemison, First Black Female Astronaut

Dr. Mae Jemison is an engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. In 1992 she became the first Black woman to travel to space. 

“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, First Black U.S. President

In 2009, attorney and former senator Barack Obama was sworn in as the first Black President of the United States. He served two consecutive terms.

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” – George Washington Carver, Scientist

George Washington Carver was one of the most notable scientists of the early 1920s. As a professor at the Tuskegee Institute, he worked to create methods that would prevent soil depletion—an important movement in the agricultural community.

“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” – Thurgood Marshall, First Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer and civil rights activist when he became the first Black member of the U.S. Supreme Court. He served on the Supreme Court from 1967 to 1991.

“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, Olympic Athlete

Jesse Owens was an American track and field star known for his personality and athletic ability. At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin he won four gold medals, making him the most successful athlete at the games.

“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, Author

As a poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou is known for her powerful and moving words. Her most notable work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ($8, Barnes & Noble), is a New York Times bestseller and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970.

“Freedom is never given; it is won.” – A. Philip Randolph, Civil Rights Activist

Asa Philip Randolph was a civil rights activist who headed the 1963 March on Washington. He is credited with leading the activism that led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ban discrimination in the defense industries during World War II, and President Truman to ban segregation in the armed forces.

“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, Abolitionist 

Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who became an abolitionist and political activist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She was active in the Underground Railroad movement and is credited with conducting 13 rescue missions that freed approximately 70 slaves.

“The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.” – W.E.B. Du Bois, Author and Civil Rights Activist

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a sociologist, writer, historian, and civil rights activist. He was the first Black man to earn a doctorate from Harvard and became a founder of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909.

Comments (2)

January 28, 2021
This one should be at the top of your list: “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support-kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as ‘racist’.” -Thomas Sowell
January 28, 2021
This one should be at the top of your list: “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support-kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as ‘racist’.” -Thomas Sowell