The course of history has been changed by black leaders who stepped up to the platform and improved the lives of their fellow citizens. In 1962, there were over 250,000 marchers present when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
There are countless black leaders who have served as powerful figures in civil rights movements throughout history. While the ten featured here represent only a few, they unquestionably deserve recognition.
Inspiring Quotes from Black Leaders
While we hear their words frequently during Black History Month, these quotes by black leaders should be repeated and remembered every single day.
1. “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was an attorney during the civil rights movement. He won 29 out of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, more than any other person. Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American member of the United States Supreme Court, serving for 24 years from October 1967 to October 1991.
2. “The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.”
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) co-founded the NAACP in 1909. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895, the first African American to do so. During the first half of the 20th century W.E.B. Du Bois was the best-known spokesperson for African American rights.
3. “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.”
Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) was the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1960’s she was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement. She advocated for African-American equality and as a singer incorporated her music into her civil rights movement.
4. “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Frederick Douglas (1817-1895) escaped from slavery in Maryland. Following his escape, he became a national leader during the abolitionist movement in the states of New York and Massachusetts. Frederick became known as a great orator and published an autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave in 1845. Several other books followed.
5. “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) in 1968 was elected to the United States Congress. She was the first woman to achieve this position and served for seven terms between 1969 to 1983, representing the 12th congressional district of New York. Striving for higher achievements, in 1972 she was the first African American and the first woman to seek the presidential nomination.
6. “You are no better than anyone else, and no one is better than you.”
Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) was one of three black students handpicked to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools. A very strong math student, at age 13 she was attending high school at West Virginia State College.
Katherine enrolled in that same college at the age of 18 and became the third African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. She graduated in 1937 with the highest honors. Katherine became a mathematician in high demand, with her work including the math needed for the 1957 launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite.
She also did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7 and worked on orbital equations for the 1962 mission of John Glenn. She was 97 years old in 2015 when awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, America’s highest civilian honor.
7. “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 (1928-2014) was an inspirational writer who believed in civil rights. The Maya Angelou Newsletter: March 2020 speaks to what Black Americans have lived through. Written by Maya Angelou’s son, it talks of racism and sexism being practiced and accepted in the 1950s.
The newsletter refers to members of his Maya’s family who carried guns and had altercations with police. You will learn how Maya was considered a troublemaker for believing that justice was important and should be fought for. Maya even went so far as to call herself Black at a time when everyone else used the term Colored.
8. “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 (born 1958) became the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium located in the Rose Center for Each and Space located in New York City. He is an American planetary scientist, science communicator, author, cosmologist, and astrophysicist.
9. “We cannot ‘fix’ the police without a revolution of values and radical change to the basic structure of our society.”
Michelle Alexander (born 1967) is a law professor at Ohio State University and author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” This book addresses the reality of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Michelle believes that the 20th Century racial oppression has been replaced with a justice system that puts a disproportionate amount of black men into prison.
10. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was an activist and American Christian minister who became known for his “I Have a Dream” speech. He was a very well educated man with hopes for the betterment of Black Americans.
At only 35 years old Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He turned over his $54,123 in prize money to further the civil rights movement.
More Quotes from Black Leaders
Having been inspired by quotes from black leaders throughout history, you may want to learn from a living legend. Click here to dive into ten of RuPaul’s wittiest and wisest remarks.