85 Powerful Black History Month Quotes That Will Inspire and Move You

Learning about Black History Month can be inspirational, and the quotes below are sure to move and motivate you

Being Black in America is an honor and a privilege. Black people in this country have endured and overcome so much while simultaneously contributing to every aspect of America’s foundation, culture and society. From creating witty and unique inventions that impact the day-to-day lives of Americans to influencing sports and fashion, Black people have made a mark on American history that can never be erased. To celebrate Black history is to celebrate American history, which is why Black History Month shouldn’t be a single month. There are so many Black History Month quotes, John Lewis quotes, Black History Month facts, Black History Month movies and podcasts about race that share the immeasurable seeds that Black people have sown in American soil.

Carter G. Woodson, a Black historian who received his PhD from Harvard University in 1912 and was known as the “father of Black history,” once stated, “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.” Inspired to celebrate Black heritage, history and accomplishments, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which later birthed a Negro History Week that grew to become Black History Month. These days, Black History Month is celebrated each February.

When thinking about Black History Month and participating in Black History Month activities, it’s important to remember that one of the keys to not repeating the mistakes of the past is to fully acknowledge the experiences, contributions and existence of a shared legacy and foundation that has not always been inspirational. America is a great nation, and the reality that we as a modern society are striving to learn, grow and continue to build on America’s foundation together is a feat in and of itself. As Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet laureate ever to speak at a presidential inauguration, so eloquently stated, “For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption we feared at its inception.” With the choices we make each day, we are perpetually creating history in the present moment, and that is an inspiration. Check out the powerful quotes below, which will continue to inspire and move you.

Inspirational Black History Month quotes

Michelle Obama Black History Month QuoteRD.com, Dr. Billy Ingram/Getty Images

1. “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, first Black president and CEO of the Ford Foundation

2. “Unless we start to fight and defeat the enemies in our own country, poverty and racism, and make our talk of equality and opportunity ring true, we are exposed in the eyes of the world as hypocrites when we talk about making people free.” —Shirley Chisholm, first Black woman to be elected to Congress (in 1968) and to run for president (in 1972)

3. “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 of the United States

4. “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” —Cornel West, philosopher, political activist and social critic

5. “If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” James Baldwin, 20th-century poet, novelist, playwright and activist

6. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama, first Black president of the United States

7. “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, political activist, entertainer and philanthropist known as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time; Ali used his influence during the Civil Rights Movement to instill racial pride

8. “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, world-renowned poet laureate, author, actress, playwright and civil rights activist whose career spanned half a century; Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010

Motivational Black history quotes from Black leaders

Jesse Jackson Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

9. “If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender and rise up against all odds.” —Jesse Jackson, American political activist, politician and Baptist preacher

10. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” —Nelson Mandela, politician and South African anti-apartheid activist who was elected the first president of South Africa

11. “The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.” —W.E.B. DuBois, author, social activist and educator who was also the first Black man to graduate from Harvard with a PhD; DuBois co-founded the NAACP in 1909

12. “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, 19th-century politician, author and co-founder of Tuskegee Institute, a famous historically Black college

13. “Racism separates, but it never liberates. Hatred generates fear, and fear once given a foothold binds, consumes and imprisons. Nothing is gained from prejudice. No one benefits from racism.” —Thurgood Marshall, first Black justice in the U.S. Supreme Court, who argued the Brown v. Board of Education case and played a major role in the fight to stop racial segregation in the educational system

14. “A people without the knowledge of their past history is like a tree without roots.” —Marcus Garvey, publisher, journalist and political activist in the early 20th century who launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

15. “The thing about Black history is that the truth is so much more complex than anything you could make up.” —Henry Louis Gates, professor, historian, filmmaker and literary critic

16. “I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.” —Malcolm X, political activist and human rights activist who was an advocate for Black empowerment until his assassination in 1965

Empowering social justice and diversity quotes

Ava Duvernay Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

17. “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” —James Baldwin

18. “Let woman’s claim be as broad in the concrete as the abstract. We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritism, whether of sex, race, country or condition. If one link of the chain is broken, the chain is broken.” —Anna Julia Cooper, PhD, author, educator, Black liberation activist known as the Mother of Black Feminism and former slave

19. “Race is a constant factor in American life. Yet, reacting to every incident, real or imagined, is crippling, tiring and ultimately counterproductive.” —Condoleezza Rice, the first Black female Secretary of State and the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor

20. “I suffered first as a child from discrimination, poverty. … So I think it was a natural follow from that that I should use my camera to speak for people who are unable to speak for themselves.” —Gordon Parks, photographer, documentarian, director and musician who used photojournalism in the 1940s to 1970s to document Black life

21. “I knew then and I know now, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it.” —Claudette Colvin, a pioneer of the 1950s Civil Rights Movement

22. “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, filmmaker and culture-shifter

23. “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” —Cornel West, philosopher, political activist and social critic

24. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr., activist, preacher and the 1964 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement until his assassination in 1968 

Black History Month quotes from black entertainers

Samuel Jackson Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

25. “Loving God is like my being Black. I just am. [No one says] ‘You know what? I’m gonna be blacker today!’ It’s my culture. It’s not something I put on or take off or show more. You just communicate that in the way you live your life.” —Angela Bassett, actress

26. “What I’m really praying is that we, as a people, understand that we are interdependent upon each other. We don’t want police to leave; we want policing in our world. But I think that people aren’t comfortable with each other.” —Lynn Whitfield, actress

27. “When I was born, I was colored. I soon became a Negro. Not long after that, I was Black. Most recently, I was African American. It seems we’re on a roll here. But I am still first and foremost in search of freedom.” —Harry Belafonte, singer, songwriter, activist and actor

28. “I’m very proud to be Black, but Black is not all I am. That’s my cultural historical background, my genetic makeup, but it’s not all of who I am, nor is it the basis from which I answer every question.” —Denzel Washington, actor, director and producer

29. “I also believe that you are what you have to defend, and if you’re a Black man, that’s always going to be the bar against which you are judged, whether you want to align yourself with those themes or not. You can think of yourself as a colorless person, but nobody else is gonna.” —Don Cheadle, actor and filmmaker

30. “The breakdown of the Black community, in order to maintain slavery, began with the breakdown of the Black family. Men and women were not legally allowed to get married, because you couldn’t have that kind of love. It might get in the way of the economics of slavery. Your children could be taken from you and literally sold down the river.” —Kerry Washington, actress, producer and director

31. “Take a stand for what’s right. Raise a ruckus and make a change. You may not always be popular, but you’ll be part of something larger and bigger and greater than yourself. Besides, making history is extremely cool.” —Samuel Jackson, actor and producer

32. “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” —Morgan Freeman, actor, director and producer

Moving quotes from Black musicians

Aretha Franklin Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

33. “It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times, as far as I’m concerned; you can’t help it.” —Nina Simone, singer, musician and activist who was once considered one of the most influential singers during the Civil Rights Movement

34. “I don’t stand for the Black man’s side. I don’t stand for the White man’s side. I stand for God’s side.” —Bob Marley, 20th-century singer, songwriter and musician who was an advocate of Pan-Africanism

35. “We as Black people have to tell our own stories. We have to document our history. When we allow someone else to document our history, the history becomes twisted, and we get written out. We get our noses blown off.” —Erykah Badu, musician, actress and producer

36. “I don’t do Black music. I don’t do White music. I do fight music, unified in Christ music.” Lecrae, born-again Christian who uses his music platform to bridge the gap between millennials and the church

37. “Part of what my music represents is to stand up and be the voice of those who feel like they are not heard and want to be treated with respect regardless of race, color, orientation—android, cyborg, whatever.” —Janelle Monae, singer, rapper and actress

38. “We all require and want respect, man or woman, Black or White. It’s our basic human right.” —Aretha Franklin, singer, songwriter and pianist, considered one of the greatest musicians of all time

39. “Watch us walk, watch us move, watch us overcome, listen to our voices, the sway. The resilience. The innovation. The raw, unfiltered and untouched soul we have cannot be touched.” —Solange Knowles, singer, songwriter and actress

40. “I’m Black, and I’m proud!” —James Brown, singer, songwriter and record producer, considered the Godfather of Soul and the originator of funk music

Here’s a list of Black-owned businesses to support right now (and all year long).

Quotes about Black history from Black politicians

Barbara Jordan Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, Shelly Katz/Getty Images

41. “You never cede control of your own ability to be successful to something called racism.” —Condoleezza Rice, American diplomat and political scientist

42. “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, former enslaved American abolitionist, political activist and one of the most famous figures on the Underground Railroad in the 19th century

43. “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.” —Robert Smalls, U.S. congressman (1895)

44. “What the people want is simple. They want an America as good as its promise.” —Barbara Jordan, U.S. congresswoman, lawyer, educator and leader during the Civil Rights Movement

45. “Have a vision. Be demanding.” —Colin Powell, first Black U.S. Secretary of State 

46. “I am and always will be a catalyst for change.” —Shirley Chisholm, first Black woman to be elected to Congress (in 1968) and to run for president (in 1972)

47. “I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” —Booker T. Washington 

48. “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” —John Lewis, civil rights leader who led the “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge on March 7, 1965, served 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011

Uplifting Black history quotes from Black poets

Paul Laurence Dunbar Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, ullstein bild Dtl./Getty Images

49. “The greatest movement for social justice our country has ever known is the Civil Rights Movement, and it was totally rooted in a love ethic.” —Bell Hooks, author, poet, feminist and social activist

50. “We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans—because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings.” —Maya Angelou 

51. “I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think.” —Ntozake Shange, poet, academic, playwright and feminist who wrote about race and Black issues in the 1970s to early 2000s

52. “Hope is tenacious. It goes on living and working when science has dealt it what should be its death blow.” —Paul Laurence Dunbar, American poet, novelist and leading literary figure during the Harlem Renaissance

53. “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” —James Baldwin

54. “There are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.” —Rita Dove, American poet and author

55. “Once you know who you are, you don’t have to worry anymore.” —Nikki Giovanni, American poet, activist and educator

56. “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say that you enjoyed it.” —Zora Neale Hurston, author, anthropologist, folklorist and filmmaker in the early 1900s to 1960s

Here are more amazing Black poets to know about.

Civil rights quotes to motivate and inspire

Martin Luther King Jr. Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, AFP/Getty Images

57. “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” —Medgar Evers, civil rights activist

58. “Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

59. “Sometimes history takes things into its own hands.” —Thurgood Marshall 

60. “You don’t have to live near me; just give me my share of equality.” —Nina Simone

61. “When Black women stand up—as they did during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as they did during the Black liberation era—earth-shaking changes occur.” —Angela Y. Davis, political activist, author and philosopher

62. “Children holding hands, walking with the wind. That is America to me—not just the movement for civil rights but the endless struggle to respond with decency, dignity and a sense of brotherhood to all the challenges that face us as a nation, as a whole.” John Lewis

63. ”If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” —Frederick Douglass, American social reformer, abolitionist, statesman and a national leader in the abolitionist movement in the late 19th century

64. “Sometimes, I am also identified as a civil rights leader or a human rights activist. I would also like to be thought of as a complex, three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood human being with a rich storehouse of experiences, much like everyone else yet unique in my own way, much like everyone else.” —Coretta Scott King, author, activist and civil rights leader in the 1960s who is known as the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement

65. “I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving up.” —Rosa Parks, civil rights activist 

Powerful and spiritual Black History Month quotes

Desmond Tutu Black History Month QuoteRD.com, Oryx Media Archive/Getty Images

66. “Truth is powerful, and it prevails.” —Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and women’s rights activist who gave the famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention

67. “Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout ‘White power!’, when nobody will shout ‘Black power!’, but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.” Martin Luther King Jr.

68. “We were coloreds or Negroes, and to call someone Black was to invite a fistfight. But Malcolm remade the menace inherent in that name into something mystical—Black Power; Black Is Beautiful; It’s a Black thing; you wouldn’t understand.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and journalist

69. “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” Desmond Tutu, South African theologian and human rights activist

70. “You really can change the world if you care enough.” —Marian Wright Edelman, activist for children’s rights

71. “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” John Lewis 

72. “Give light, and people will find a way.” —Ella Baker, civil rights and human rights activist who founded the Young Negroes Cooperative League, a Black economic empowerment cooperative in the 1930s

73. “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” —Angela Davis, American activist, author and academic

74. “I was raised to believe that excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And that’s how I operate my life.” —Oprah Winfrey, talk show host, author, actress, producer and philanthropist 

75. “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, Olympic champion 

76. “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, Olympic champion 

77. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

Read up on the Black Americans you didn’t learn about in history class.

Encouraging Black history quotes from influential Black creatives

Kasi Lemmons Black History Month Quote V2RD.com, Michael Kovac/Getty Images

78. “I never really had to put much thought into my race, and neither did anybody else. I knew I was Black. I knew there was a history that accompanied my skin color, and my parents taught me to be proud of it. End of story.” —Issa Rae, writer, actor and director

79. “It was such an incredible high to see, for the first time, such a diverse audience walking into the Metropolitan Opera House because a Black woman was going to be up there.” Misty Copeland, first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history

80. “I’m a Black woman every day, and I’m not confused about that. I’m not worried about that. I don’t need to have a discussion with you about how I feel as a Black woman, because I don’t feel disempowered as a Black woman.” —Shonda Rhimes, screenwriter, producer and author

81. “History, especially in certain places, is not a dead thing. It is a wonderful, almost holy experience.” —Kasi Lemmons, director, actress and filmmaker

82. “The New Black doesn’t blame others for our issues. The New Black dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality. And it’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side that you’re going to be on.” —Pharrell Williams, rapper, singer/songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur and fashion designer

83. “We had a Black Wall Street because we wasn’t allowed on [the other] Wall Street. … We had no alternative but to sell to ourselves.” —Dapper Dan, fashion designer and haberdasher

84. “Fashion can be used as a cultural translator and a tool against colonization; it re-establishes the balance between symbols, stories and different worlds through style.” —Stella Jean, fashion designer

85. “Things like racism are institutionalized. You might not know any bigots. You feel like, ‘Well, I don’t hate Black people, so I’m not a racist,’ but you benefit from racism. Just by the merit, the color of your skin. The opportunities that you have, you’re privileged in ways that you might not even realize because you haven’t been deprived of certain things. We need to talk about these things in order for them to change.” —Dave Chapelle, actor, comedian and showrunner

Next, check out these incredible books by Black authors and the Black-owned bookstores to buy them from.


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Lynnette Nicholas
Lynnette Nicholas is a culture expert, children's media consultant, on-camera host and certified Rotten Tomatoes film critic covering the latest in Black culture, parenting, books, film, TV and faith. A graduate of the University of Florida, Lynnette also writes for Essence, Common Sense Media, Your Teen Magazine, HuffPost, Taste of Home, Parade and more. She is currently based in New York City, and when she's not writing or traveling, you can find her at an art gallery, theater performance or film screening.