16 Little Known Quotes From Influential Civil Rights Leaders

At a time when school boards are voting to remove Black history from the curriculum and the state of Florida is approving dangerous academic standards that state that “slaves developed skills that, in some cases, could be applied for their personal gain,” it is critical to acknowledge Black people. pioneers who advanced voting rights, ended discriminatory Jim Crow laws, and refused to allow future generations of blacks to experience the same discrimination and harassment they experienced.

Although well-known figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Ruby Bridges, have received a lot of recognition (but still not enough), less well-known civil rights leaders – Bayard Rustin, Diane Nash, and many more – deserve that recognition. known too.

Without the hard work of Black leaders on the front lines and behind the scenes, the progress seen today would likely not exist. Although Black people still face racism, unfair challenges, and discrimination in many systems around the world, we often forget that great progress has been made in recent years. It has only been 60 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed, ending Jim Crow laws that protected segregation.

It is true that we cannot progress if we do not know our history, and more than that, we cannot progress without a commitment to change and hard work.

So as the fight continues, take time to be inspired by the Black leaders who are leading the charge for freedom and equality. Read on to discover their powerful quotes:

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  (center) held a strategy meeting in September 1960 with students, including Julian Bond, who organized a sit-in in an effort to end lunch counter segregation in Atlanta.

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Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (center) held a strategy meeting in September 1960 with students, including Julian Bond, who organized a sit-in in an effort to end lunch counter segregation in Atlanta.

1. “The way to correct mistakes is to shine a light on them.”

— Ida B. Wells, an investigative journalist and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in “The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader”

2. “We have been silent for too long. There are times when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your legs. This is the time.”

— John Lewis, former congressman, Freedom Rider and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, at the House sit-in following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida

3. “We will win because the moral line is long, but it leads to justice.”

— The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a minister and civil rights activist, in a speech at Washington National Cathedral in 1968

4. “Sometimes, speaking the truth nowadays seems to mean risking being killed. But if I fall, I will fall 5 feet 4 inches forward in the fight for freedom.”

— Fannie Lou Hamer, voting rights leader and co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, wrote in an essay

Voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer met three men on June 16, 1964, soon after the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was founded.

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Voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer met three men on June 16, 1964, soon after the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was founded.

5. “Black Power means: Look at me, I’m here. I have dignity. I have self-respect. I have roots. I insist, I demand that I participate in the decisions that affect my life and the lives of my children. That means I am someone.”

— Whitney M. Young Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, as quoted in the PBS documentary “The Power Broker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights”

6. “Give light and people will find their way.”

— Ella Baker, former NAACP branch director, referring to the title of a social justice training workshop at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee

7. “Following the rules, prioritizing the law, and political consistency are no more important than rights, justice, and common sense.”

— WEB Du Bois, founding member of the NAACP, writing in “Black Reconstruction”

8. “I wish I could say that racism and prejudice are just a distant memory. We must differ from indifference. We must differ from apathy. We must dissent from fear, hatred and distrust. … We must differ because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

— Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice, at his Liberty Medal acceptance speech in 1992

Thurgood Marshall, then chief legal counsel for the NAACP, before the U.S. Supreme Court on August 22, 1958, before making a final appeal to allow black students to re-enter High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Nine years later, Marshall became a justice on the Supreme Court.

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Thurgood Marshall, then chief legal counsel for the NAACP, before the U.S. Supreme Court on August 22, 1958, before making a final appeal to allow black students to re-enter High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nine years later, Marshall became a justice on the Supreme Court.

9. “I want to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free…so that others would be free too.”

— Rosa Parks, leader of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, quoted in the 1987 PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize”

10. “The civil rights movement did not start in Montgomery and did not end in the 1960s. That continues to this day.”

— Julian Bond, co-founder and first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center

11. “The only superior race is the human race, and by God’s grace we are all members of it.”

— Roy Wilkins, former executive director of the NAACP, in his 1994 autobiography

12. “Racism is an adult disease, and it’s time we stop using children to spread it.”

— Ruby Bridges, the first black child to integrate a whites-only elementary school in New Orleans, said in a speech in New Jersey in 2016

13. “People will never fight for your freedom if you don’t provide proof that you yourself are ready to fight for it.”

— Bayard Rustin, organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, said in a 1986 interview about gay rights

Bayard Rustin, spokesman for the Committee for Municipal Integration, at the organization's headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, in 1964.

Patrick A. Burns via Getty Images

Bayard Rustin, spokesman for the Committee for Municipal Integration, at the organization’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, in 1964.

14. “We implore you to save America’s youth from the ravages of racial prejudice. Don’t bind children in the narrow circle of your own life.”

— Charles Hamilton Houston, former dean of Howard University Law School and first general counsel of the NAACP, at the YWCA national convention in Philadelphia in 1934

15. “I will unite with anyone who does right and no one who does wrong.”

— Frederick Douglass, leader of the abolitionist movement, in a speech in Rochester, New York, in 1855

16. “Freedom, by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leaders.”

— Diane Nash, Freedom Rider and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Diane Nash, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 7, 2022.

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President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Diane Nash, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 7, 2022.

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