29 Quotes To Jumpstart Each Day Of Black History Month

Black History Month, or African-American History Month, is observed in the United States every year in February. Throughout the month, institutions and schools acknowledge and share the contributions, achievements, and experiences of Black Americans. With the following 29 quotes—one for each day of the month of February 2024—we are putting the focus on the words of Black Americans.


Black history isn’t a separate history. This is all of our history, this is American history, and we need to understand that.
—Karyn Parsons, writer, actor, and lead in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 2014


Separate is one of those words that can be difficult to spell correctly—many people feel tempted to turn that first a into an e. The trick is to remember that there are two e’s separated by two a’s. Speaking of separation, separate comes from the Latin sēparātus, meaning roughly “to put apart.”


You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer; Between the World and Me, 2015


Consciousness is “the state of being conscious; awareness of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.” Being conscious is not the same as having a conscience, or “the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives,” although the two are closely related.


Logic is a seductive excuse for setting low expectations.
—Stacey Abrams, politician and activist; Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change, 2018


Seductive is an adjective meaning “enticing; beguiling; captivating.” The root of the word is the Latin sēdūcere meaning “to lead aside.” In other words, something that is seductive might seem appealing but could lead you astray.


The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin, even, or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they’re manifestations of the same thing.
—Mae Jemison, astronaut, 2002


Manifestation here means an “outward or perceptible indication; materialization.” Jemison is here saying that science and the arts are both examples of human understanding of the world.


Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
—Audre Lorde, writer and activist; A Burst of Light, 1988


Self-indulgence is the act of indulging, or giving in to, one’s own desires, passions, whims, etc. especially without restraint. Self-indulgence has a negative connotation, implying that the person cares more about themselves than others. Lorde here contrasts negative self-indulgence with positive self-preservation.


I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong, than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.
—Malcolm X, civil rights activist; Oxford Union Debate, 1964


Angels play an important role in the Abrahamic religions. There is even a word for the study of angels: angelology. Here, Malcolm X uses angel figuratively to mean “a person having qualities generally attributed to an angel, as beauty, purity, or kindliness.”


Rule-following, legal precedence, and political consistency are not more important than right, justice, and plain common-sense.
—W.E.B. Du Bois, sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist; Black Reconstruction, 1935


Precedence is a noun that literally means “the fact of preceding in time; antedating.” In other words, that which came first. Legal precedence refers specifically to “a legal decision serving as a rule or pattern in future similar cases,” or precedent.


You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.
—Angela Davis, civil rights activist, and academic, 2014


The word radically means “thoroughly; completely; fundamentally.” A “radical transform[ation]” is one that changes things from the very bottom all the way to the top.


History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.
—Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, 2011


The word contagious literally refers to disease that can be spread “by bodily contact with an infected person or object.” But Michelle Obama uses the word figuratively to mean “tending to spread from person to person.”


I really think a champion is defined not by their wins, but by how they can recover when they fall.
—popularly attributed to Serena Willams, tennis star, 2012


A champion is “a person who has defeated all opponents in a competition.” The word comes from the Latin campus (“field, battlefield”).


It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.
—popularly attributed to Nina Simone, singer


Duty (plural: duties) has a variety of meanings, chiefly “something that one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation.” One’s duty is related to what is due or “owed.”


Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
—James Baldwin, writer; “As Much Truth As One Can Bear,” 1962


While face often refers to the front part of the head, this quote from James Baldwin uses it as a verb to mean “to look toward or in the direction of” or “to confront directly.” Faced is the past participle of the verb face; it does not mean “having a specified kind of face,” as in two-faced.


I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.
—bell hooks, writer, feminist, and academic; interview with Maya Angelou in Shambhala Sun, 1998


Whim, short for whim-wham, is a noun meaning “an odd or capricious notion or desire; a sudden or freakish fancy.” If you are overtaken by a whim, you are driven to do something seemingly out of nowhere.


The discussion of representation is one that has been repeated over and over again, and the solution has always been that it’s up to us to support, promote, and create the images we want to see.
—Issa Rae, actor, writer, and producer, creator of Insecure; The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, 2015


The word representation is a noun with various meanings, but essentially it means “the act of representing” or “the state of being represented.” In this context, Issa Rae is using representation to refer to the presence and image of Black people in film, TV, and culture more generally.


He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.
—Muhammad Ali, boxer and activist; Ebony, 1977


The word courageous means “possessing or characterized by courage; brave.” If you’ve ever heard the expression “to show heart,” meaning “brave” or “valiant,” the origin of this word will not surprise you: it comes from the Old French cuer meaning “heart.”


Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people, the beauty within themselves.
—Langston Hughes, writer and activist, 1924


Mission has a variety of meanings, but Langston Hughes is using it here to mean “an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation.”


[T]his country was built on the bones, the work, the labor, the lives of black bodies. It continues to profit from that exploited labor.
—Malkia Cyril, poet, activist, and founder of the Center for Media Justice, 2016


Exploit when used as a noun means “a striking or notable deed,” but when used as a verb, it means something else altogether. To exploit means “to use selfishly for one’s own ends.” If someone’s labor is exploited, they are being taken advantage of for someone else’s gain.


White Americans desire to be free from a past they do not want to remember, while Black Americans remain bound to a past they can never forget.
—Nikole Hannah-Jones, journalist; The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, 2021


The word bound means “tied; in bonds.” The word choice here is symbolic, because it recalls the bondage of slavery that Black Americans endured.


I want kids to learn that, yes, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re good or even great at something.
—Simone Biles, Olympic gymnast; Marie Claire, 2021


Acknowledge is a verb meaning “to admit to be real or true; recognize the existence, truth, or fact of.” This word choice is interesting here, because acknowledge often implies making a statement reluctantly, about something previously denied. It suggests Biles thinks kids might be shy about talking about their accomplishments.


Maybe in this life you get all kinds of soulmates, multiple people who vibrate at the same level you do.
—Samantha Irby, writer; We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, 2017


A soulmate is “a person with whom one has a strong affinity, shared values and tastes, and often a romantic bond.” Believe it or not, the word soulmate was first recorded around 1815–25.


Becoming a scientist meant I no longer had to wait for someone to give me the answer.
—Danielle N. Lee, biologist, 2014


As you may already know, a scientist is “an expert in science, especially one of the physical or natural sciences.” What you may not know is that scientist comes from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge.”


The only difference between a hero and the villain is that the villain chooses to use that power in a way that is selfish and hurts other people.
—Chadwick Boseman, actor; CNET Magazine, 2017


The actor Chadwick Boseman is best known for his role as the superhero Black Panther. In this quote, he reflects on the difference between heroes and villains, or “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel.” Villain comes from the Middle English vilain meaning “churlish rustic, serf.”


Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.
—Toni Morrison, writer; Nobel Prize Lecture, 1993


The word caul has a variety of meanings. Following the clothing metaphor in this quote (“wide skirt … stitch”), caul here means “a net lining in the back of a woman’s cap or hat.” It can also refer to the part of the embryonic sac that covers a baby’s head.


There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.
—Zora Neale Hurston, writer and anthropologist; Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942


Agony is a horrible feeling; the word means “extreme and generally prolonged pain; intense physical and mental suffering.” It comes from the Latin Latin agōnia meaning “contest” or “struggle.”


None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots.
—popularly attributed to Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court justice


A bootstrap is “a loop of leather or cloth sewn at the top rear of a boot to facilitate pulling it on.” In this context, Thurgood Marshall is using bootstraps figuratively to mean “relying entirely on one’s efforts and resources.”


Freedom, in the broadest and highest sense, has never been a bequest; it has been a conquest.
—Booker T. Washington, writer, orator, and leader; “An Address on Abraham Lincoln,” 1909


A bequest is “a disposition in a will” or “a legacy.” Basically, a bequest is something someone leaves or gives you.


We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
—Martin Luther King, Jr., Baptist minister and civil rights activist; In My Own Words, 2002


The word finite is an adjective that means “having bounds or limits; measurable.” The antonym of finite is infinite, or “immeasurably great.”


There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice if only we know how to find it.
—Ida B. Wells, investigative journalist and civil rights activist; Crusade for Justice, 1970


A remedy is “something that corrects or removes an evil of any kind.” In legal contexts, it also means “legal redress; the legal means of enforcing a right or redressing a wrong.” It’s possible that Ida B. Wells had both of these meanings of the word in mind when she wrote this.


The crowning glory of American citizenship is that it may be shared equally by people of every nationality, complexion and sex …
—Mary Ann Shadd Cary, to the House Judiciary Committee on the Rights of Women to Vote, 1871

crowning glory

This year, we have one bonus quote for February 29. The phrase crowning glory means “the greatest or most noble aspect of something.” The phrase has religious implications, as glory comes from the Latin gloria, which is often used to reference the greatness of God. A crowning glory is the (here, metaphorical) halo or crown that represents holiness or quality.

Women of color like Mary Ann Shadd Cary were instrumental in the fight for the right to vote and more. You can read the words of women of color whose voices continue to inspire us in 19 Trailblazing Quotes From Women Of Color On The Pursuit Of Suffrage.

Take the quiz

Can’t get enough of these words? The remedy for that is to challenge yourself with our short quiz based on these quotes.

Looking for more? Revisit these enduring quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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