Speeches were an important part of the Civil Rights Movement. Inspirational words could attract supporters, silence critics and embolden activists. Here is a collection of some of the most important civil rights quotes from leaders such as Muhammad Ali, JFK and Martin Luther King.
"How could they say that my religion, Islam was a ‘race hate’ religion after all the plunder and enslavement and domination of my people by white Christians in the name of white supremacy?" The Greatest: My Own Story
"Evil societies always kill their consciences."
"We, who are the living, possess the past. Tomorrow is for our martyrs." Lay Bare The Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement
Hubert H. Humphrey:
"There are those who say to you - we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late." Speech at Democrat National Convention, 14 July 1948.
"I am - Somebody. I may be poor, but I am - Somebody! I may be on welfare, but I am - Somebody! I may be uneducated, but I am - Somebody! I must be, I’m God’s child. I must be respected and protected. I am black and I am beautiful! I am - Somebody! Soul Power!" Address to Operation Breadbasket rally, 1966.
Lyndon B. Johnson:
"This administration here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America." State of the Union message 8 January 1964.
"The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men." Speech, Washington D.C. 6 August 1965
John Fitzgerald Kennedy:
"There are no ‘white’ or ‘coloured’ signs on the foxholes or graveyards of battle." Message to Congress 19 June 1963.
"We are confronted primarily with a moral issue… whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated." Referring to race riots in Alabama in a radio broadcast 11 June 1963.
Martin Luther King Jr:
"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter." Comment 4 February 1968.
"If man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live." Speech in Detroit 23 June 1963.
"I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law." New York Journal 10 September 1962.
"The best way to solve any problem is to remove its cause." Stride Towards Freedom 1964.
"Today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence." Stride Towards Freedom 1964.
"We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust." Stride Toward Freedom 1964
"A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard." Where Do We Go From Here? 1967.
"Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having their legs off, and then being condemned for being a cripple." Where Do We Go From Here 1967.
"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals." Why Can’t We Wait 1964
"I see America through the eyes of a victim. I don’t see any American dream. I see an American nightmare." Comment 3 April 1964.
"We don’t go for segregation. We go for separation. Separation is when you have your own. You control your own economy; you control your own politics; you control your own society; you control your own everything. You have yours and you control yours; we have ours and we control ours." Comment 23 January 1963.
"It's just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t know you ever had coffee… It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep." Message to the Grass Roots, November 1963.
"If it’s necessary to form a Black Nationalist army, we’ll form a Black Nationalist army. It’ll be ballot or the bullet. It’ll be liberty or it’ll be death." April 1964.
"No sane black man really wants integration! No sane white man really wants integration!" 1965
"I’m the world’s original gradualist. I just think 90-odd years is gradual enough." Referring to Dwight Eisenhower’s call for patience regarding the progress of civil rights 19 May 1958.
"The United States has been called the melting pot of the world. But it seems to me that the coloured man either missed getting into the pot or he got melted down."
"There are a million Negroes in Mississippi. I think they’ll take care of me." 7 June 1966, after being shot on a civil rights march.
"The day for the Negro man being a coward is over." 1966.
"The Negro wants to be everything but himself… He wants to integrate with the white man, but he cannot integrate with himself or with his own kind. The Negro wants to lose his identity because he does not know his own identity." Black Nationalism 1962.
Harry S. Truman:
"Every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal." Speech to Congress 6 September 1945.
See also: 1964 Civil Rights Act
"Civil Rights Quotes". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.