Quotes about African-Americans

Most popular African-Americans quotes

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
I can't die but once.

abolition courage inspirational slavery

Black men, don't be ashamed to show your colors, and to own them.


I was born to work up to my grave 
But I was not born 
To be a slave.


I swear to the Lord
I still can't see
Why democracy means
Everybody but me.


We [blacks] wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.
I had to prove you could be a new kind of black man. I had to show the world.
How could I explain a young Black boy to a grown man who had been born White?


America has put a tight shoe on the Negro and now he has a callus on his soul.

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Black art has always existed. It just hasn't been looked for in the right places.


Black entertainers have had to be ten times better than anyone else, historically.
I grew up like a neglected weed - ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.

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Of my two handicaps, being female put many more obstacles in my path than being black.

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Segregation is the offspring of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.

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Quakers almost as good as colored. They call themselves friends and you can trust them every time.

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I don't go for that hate talk. Negroes ain't got time to be hating anybody. We got to get together.


Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.

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A white woman. A white woman has only one handicap to overcome—that of sex. I have two—both sex and race.

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It was a traditional ruse that was used to shield the Black vulnerability; we laughed to keep from crying.
Unbidden would come the painful reminder—"Not all slaves were stolen, nor were all slave dealers European."
America is the red man's country by natural right, and the black man's by virtue of his sufferings and toil.


Although as Black people we had a dignity and a love of life, those qualities had to be defended constantly.
The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people.

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The real measure of black progress will be when they can spurn professional sports careers as easily as whites.
Art was the flower of life and despite the years of ill treatment black artists were among its most glorious blossoms.
Through the centuries of despair and dislocation, we had been creative, because we faced down death by daring to hope.


The Negro must love the white man, because the white man needs his love to remove his tensions, insecurities, and fears.

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Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to get insulted.
Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.
Just being a Negro doesn't qualify you to understand the race situation any more than being sick makes you an expert on medicine.


I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.

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A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.

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Baseball is very big with my people. It figures. It's the only way we can get to shake a bat at a white man without starting a riot.


The sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

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I have nothing to lose by standing up and following my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We have been in jail for four hundred years.

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If I weren't earning $3 million a year to dunk a basketball, most people on the street would run in the other direction if they saw me coming.


I believe that the life of the Negro race has been a life of tragedy, of injustice, of oppression. The law has made him equal, but man has not.


The vast majority of Negroes in our country are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.
I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

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The black child must learn early to allow laughter to fill his mouth or the million small cruelties he encounters will congeal and clog his throat.
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.

abolition freedom slavery

Values among Southern rural Blacks are not quite the same as those existing elsewhere. Age has more worth than wealth, and religiosity more value than beauty.
Malcolm X was America's Molotov cocktail, thrown upon the White hope that all Black Americans would follow the nonviolent tenets of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


The haughty American nation ... makes the Negro clean its boots and then proves the moral and physical inferiority of the Negro by the fact that he is a bootblack.

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At the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American White man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

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I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

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It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.
When he [the African-American] seeks opportunity, he is told, in effect, to lift himself by his own bootstraps, advice which does not take into account the fact that he is barefoot.

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Since we were descendants of African slaves torn from the land, we reasoned we wouldn't have to earn the right to return, yet we wouldn't be so arrogant as to take anything for granted.
The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.

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The Negro turned his back on force not only because he knew he could not win his freedom through physical force but also because he believed that through physical force he could lose his soul.

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One ever feels his twoness—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.
My people had used music to soothe slavery's torment or to propitiate God, or to describe the sweetness of love and the distress of lovelessness, but I knew no race could sing and dance its way to freedom.

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If any man claims the Negro should be content ... let him say he would willingly change the colour of his skin and go to live in the Negro section of a large city. Then and only then has he a right to such a claim.

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Both a practical and a moral answer to the Negro's cry for justice, nonviolent direct action proved that it could win victories without losing wars, and so became the triumphant tactic of the Negro Revolution of 1963.

civil rights movement nonviolence

As a matter of racial pride we want to be called "blacks."  Which has replaced the term "Afro-Americans."  Which replaced "Negroes."  Which replaced "colored people."  Which replaced "darkies."  Which replaced "blacks."
Now you know when there is mass unemployment and underemployment in the black community they call it a social problem. When there is mass unemployment and underemployment in the white community they call it a depression.
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

civil rights movement Vietnam war

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

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It was asserted that we were "a ragged set, crying for liberty." I reply to it, the whites have so long and so loudly proclaimed the theme of equal rights and privileges, that our souls have caught the flame also, ragged as we are.

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Between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men & women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these 'Christians' did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.

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The litmus test for realizing King's dream was neither a black face in the White House nor a black presence on Wall Street. Rather, the fulfillment of his dream was for all poor and working people to live lives of decency and dignity.

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Despite the harshness of their lives, I have always found that older Black women are paragons of generosity. The right plea, arranged the right way, the apt implication, persuade the hungriest Black woman into sharing her last biscuit.

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Martin Luther King, Jr., was the major threat to the US government and the American establishment because he dared to organize and mobilize black rage over past and present crimes against humanity targeting black folk and other oppressed people.

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But he who sells you the token instead of the coin always retains the power to revoke its worth, and to command you to get off the bus before you have reached your destination. Tokenism is a promise to pay. Democracy, in its finest sense, is payment.

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Though the colored man is no longer subject to be bought and sold, he is still surrounded by an adverse sentiment which fetters all his movements. In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress.


Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

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Although there was always generosity in the Negro neighborhood, it was indulged on pain of sacrifice. Whatever was given by Black people to other Blacks was most probably needed as desperately by the donor as by the receiver. A fact which made the giving or receiving a rich exchange.
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."

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Black Americans of my generation did not look kindly on public mourning's except during or immediately after funerals. We were expected by others and by ourselves to lighten the burden by smiling, to deflect possible new assaults by laughter. Hadn't it worked for us for centuries? Hadn't it?
I will say then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.


Organized labor has proved to be one of the most powerful forces in removing the blight of segregation and discrimination from our nation. Labor leaders wisely realize that the forces that are anti-Negro are usually anti-labor, and vice versa. And so organized labor is one of the Negro's strongest allies in the struggle for freedom.

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There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism.


My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. ... Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.

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Black women whose ancestors were brought to the United States beginning in 1619 have lived through conditions of cruelties so horrible, so bizarre, the women had to reinvent themselves. They had to find safety and sanctity inside themselves or they would not have been able to tolerate such torture. They had to learn quickly to be self-forgiving, for often their exterior actions were at odds with their interior beliefs.

African-American women

I still believe that organized labor can be one of the most powerful instruments to do away with this evil that confronts our nation that we refer to as segregation and discrimination. It is certainly true that the forces that are anti-Negro are by and large anti-labor, and with the coming together of the powerful influence of labor and all people of goodwill in the struggle for freedom and human dignity, I can assure you that we have a powerful instrument.

civil rights movement organized labor

I'm not gonna help nobody get something my negroes don't have. If I'm gonna die, I'll die now right here fighting you, if I'm gonna die. You my enemy. My enemies are white people, not Viet Congs or Chinese or Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won't even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs, and you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won't even stand up for me here at home.

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As a race we must struggle passionately and unrelentingly to the goal of justice, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice; we must never become bitter. We must never succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, for if this happens, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

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I do not come to you as a prophet of doom; I come to you as one who has accepted the challenge of our urban ghettos. This is a more difficult challenge than the one we face in the South, for we will not be dealing with constitutional rights; we will be dealing with fundamental human rights. It is a constitutional right for a man to be able to vote, but the human right to a decent house is as categorically imperative and morally absolute as was that constitutional right. It is not a constitutional right that men have jobs, but it is a human right.

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When, for decades, you have been able to make a man compromise his manhood by threatening him with a cruel and unjust punishment, and when suddenly he turns upon you and says: "Punish me. I do not deserve it. But because I do not deserve it, I will accept it so that the world will know that I am right and you are wrong," you hardly know what to do. You feel defeated and secretly ashamed. You know that this man is as good a man as you are; that from some mysterious source he has found the courage and the conviction to meet physical force with soul force.

civil rights movement nonviolence

Racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen in the prison-industrial complex and targeted police surveillance in black and brown ghettos rendered invisible in public discourse. Arbitrary uses of the law in the name of the "war" on drugs have produced, in legal scholar Michelle Alexander's well-known phrase, a new Jim Crow of mass incarceration. And poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly and disabled citizens, and working people.


Everybody has asked the question. . ."What shall we do with the Negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years.

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