February is Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada, an annual celebration observed for a whole month to commemorate and celebrate the often neglected accomplishments, contributions and history of people of African decent.
In the U.K., and (since 2016) in the Netherlands, Black History Month is celebrated in October, where it is known as Black Achievement Month.
If you are wondering how this observance begun, Black History Month traces its origins back to what was originally known as "Negro History Week."
Origins of Black History Month
Established in the 1920s through the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson (an alumnus of the University of Chicago) and other African American scholars, Negro History Week was an effort launched to primarily encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation's public schools.
Woodson is quoted as saying he believed that, "If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated." This was why he felt it was essential for the teaching of black history in schools.
Negro History Week was observed in the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14), two American abolitionists who played a pivotal role in ending slavery and shaping black history in the West.
During the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., Freedom Schools in the South embraced the week and its curriculum message. Soon colleges and universities across the country also embraced it, and the week eventually evolved into Black History Month.
In 1976, Black History Month was officially acknowledged by the U.S. government under the administration of President Gerald Ford.
Portrait of American historian and educator Carter Godwin Woodson (1875 - 1950), 1910s. Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Powerful Quotes Celebrating Black History Month
Over the years many black personalities like Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou and W.E.B. DuBois have fearlessly addressed pressing issues in society such as education, identity, equality and civil rights, and also presented new ideas that have helped shape the world as we know it today and made it a better place to live in. For their dedicated effort, prophetic insights and creative output that includes introducing remarkable inventions and creating timeless fiction and nonfiction, these men and women have received numerous awards and accolades, including the Nobel Prize.
In honor of these remarkable people and this great month, we've put together some powerful quotes from notable black writers you can share with friends and loved ones as you celebrate this special month, or any other day. These quotes are not only uplifting, but also motivational. They have been a source of encouragement for millions of people around the world.
Enjoy golden nuggets of wisdom from prominent black writers below.
1. W.E.B Dubois (African-American historian, activist and author).
"Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked—who is good? Not that men are ignorant—what is truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men."
2. Nikki Giovanni Jr. (African-American writer and educator).
“There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.”
3. Toni Morrison (African-American novelist and professor).
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
4. Derek Walcott (St. Lucian poet and playwright).
“… the truest writers are those who see language not as a linguistic process but as a living element….”
5. Maya Angelou (African-American author and poet).
“You can only become accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
6. George Washington Carver (African-American educator, scientist and inventor).
“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
7. Alice Walker (African-American author, poet and activist).
“Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book.”
“If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?”
8. Langston Hughes (African-American poet, novelist and playwright).
“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”
9. Booker T. Washington (African-American educator, author and orator).
"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed."
"Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work."
10. Chinua Achebe (Nigerian novelist, poet and professor).
"The impatient idealist says: 'Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth.' But such a place does not exist. We all have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace."
11. Wole Soyinka (Nigerian writer, poet and playwright).
“I believe that the best learning process of any kind of craft is just to look at the work of others.”
“My horizon on humanity is enlarged by reading the writers of poems, seeing a painting, listening to some music, some opera, which has nothing at all to do with a volatile human condition or struggle or whatever. It enriches me as a human being.”
12. Alex Haley (African-American Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Roots").
"In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it"
"Beginning writers must appreciate the prerequisites if they hope to become writers. You pay your dues - which takes years."
"Anytime you see a turtle up on top of a fence post, you know he had some help."
13. Audre Lorde (Caribbean-American poet and author).
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
14. Malidoma Patrice Somé (West African writer born in Dano, Burkina Faso).
"As long as we are not ourselves, we will try to be what other people are."
15. Rita Dove (African-American poet and author).
“There are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.”
16. James Baldwin (African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic).
"Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
17. Marilyn Nelson (African-American poet, translator and children's book author).
"Miracles happen all the time. We're here, aren't we?"
18. Sojourner Truth (African American human rights activist and poet).
“We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much.”
"It is the mind that makes the body."
19. Marcus Garvey (Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and orator).
"Go to work! Go to work in the morn of a new creation... until you have... reached the height of self-progress, and from that pinnacle bestow upon the world a civilization of your own."
20. Katherine Dunham (African-American dancer, choreographer, author, educator and social activist).
"I used to want the words "She tried" on my tombstone. Now I want "She did it."
Happy Black History Month!