African-American Quotations


From Muhammad Ali to Andrew Young

Compiled by Ann Marie Imbornoni


I never thought of losing, but now that it's happened, the only thing is to do it right. That's my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.

Muhammad Ali (1942-)
statement after losing his first fight to Ken Norton, March 31, 1973


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 (1942- )
The Greatest (1975)

Read more quotes from Muhammad Ali.


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 (1928-)
"Still I rise," And Still I Rise (1978)


Man, if you gotta ask you'll never know.

Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong (1900-1971)
reply when asked what jazz is


Racism is not an excuse to not do the best you can.

Arthur Ashe (1943-1993)
quoted in Sports Illustrated, July 1991


People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.

James Baldwin (1924-1987)
Nobody Knows My Name (1961)


If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything... that smacks of discrimination or slander.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
"Certain Unalienable Rights," What the Negro Wants, edited by Rayford W. Logan (1944)


The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of the universe. One moment they make us despair of our kind, and the next we see in them the reflection of the divine image.

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932)
The Marrow of Tradition (1901)


You're either part of the solution or part of the problem.

(Leroy) Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998)
speech given in San Francisco in 1968


children
when they ask you
why your mama so funny
say
she is a poet
she don't have no sense

Lucille Clifton (1936-)
"Admonitions," Good Times (1969)


Life is short, and it's up to you to make it sweet.

Sadie Delany (1889-1999)
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, written with sister Bessie Delany (1993)


You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.

Frederick Douglass (1818?-1895)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)


It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others... One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warrings ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
The Souls of Black Folk (1903)


I used to want the words "She tried" on my tombstone. Now I want "She did it."

Katherine Dunham (1910-2006)
quoted in Black Pearls by Eric V. Copage (1993)


The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to.

Marian Wright Edelman ((1939-)
The Measure of Our Success (1992)


There will always be men struggling to change, and there will always be those who are controlled by the past.

Ernest J. Gaines (1933-)
interview with John O'Brien in African American Writers (1991)


What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
"Harlem" (1951)


I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. . . . Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

Zora Neale Hurston (1901?-1960)
"How It Feels to Be Colored Me" (1928)


Our nation is a rainbow—red, yellow, brown, black, and white—and we're all precious in God's sight.

Jesse Jackson (1941)
speech given at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco on July 17, 1984


We have come over a way that with tears has
    been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the
    blood of the slaughtered.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) Lift Every Voice and Sing, stanza 2 (1900)


When I read great literature, great drama, speeches, or sermons, I feel that the human mind has not achieved anything greater than the ability to share feelings and thoughts through language.