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Words can do more than tell a story. They can also paint a beautiful picture, filled will rich detail and history.

Talented black orators, poets, and wordsmiths of the past, born with the gift to articulate words like an artist stroking a paintbrush across an open canvas, captivated the world in all aspects of life.

The beautiful thing about art is no matter what form, it never dies. Buried inside lives a lasting legacy endowed by its creator to hopefully impact your life, present or future. Black political leaders like Shirley Chisholm, whose vernacular was fit for a superhero, to poets like Maya Angelou, who could make words flow like the bend in a river, all left a fingerprint on society. Their words still give people hope, they help people find meaning in their lives and need to be celebrated.

The internet is filled with ‘quote posts’. You can find an article about quotes on anything, especially quotes from figures we celebrate every black history month. (If that’s what you are looking for click here.) This piece is about the art of wordplay and celebrating the beautiful black history quotes and passages that represent the craft of colloquy. Below are five of the most beautifully written quotes, poems, or passages from black history.

Shirley Chisholm, March 26, 1969 — US House of Representatives, Washington DC

Democratic US Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm Announcing her Candidacy for US Presidential Nomination, Thomas J O'Halloran

Source: Universal History Archive / Getty

“We Americans have come to feel that it is our mission to make the world free. We believe that we are the good guys, everywhere, in Vietnam, in Latin America, wherever we go. We believe we are the good guys at home, too. When the Kerner Commission told white America what black America has always known, that prejudice and hatred built the Nation’s slums, maintains them and profits by them, white America would not believe it. But it is true. Unless we start to fight, and defeat, the enemies of poverty and racism in our own county and make our talk of equality and opportunity ring true, we are exposed as hypocrites in the eyes of the world when we talk about making other people free.”

Malcolm X, Prospects for Freedom in 1965

Malcolm X Speaks

Source: Underwood Archives / Getty

“Power never takes a back step–only in the face of more power. Power doesn’t back up in the face of a smile, or in the face of a threat, or in the face of some kind of nonviolent loving action. It’s not the nature of power to back up in the face of anything but some more power.” 

Maya Angelou, excerpt from the poem, Still I Rise

Maya Angelou Obit.

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Martin Luther King Jr., 1956 Speech in Montgomery, Alabama

Dr. Martin Luther King...

Source: PA Images / Getty

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

Henry Louis Gates Jr., an excerpt from “Colored People: A Memoir,” 1995

2019 Summer TCA Press Tour - Day 7

Source: Amy Sussman / Getty

“I rebel at the notion that I can’t be part of other groups, that I can’t construct identities through elective affinity, that race must be the most important thing about me. Is that what I want on my gravestone: Here lies an African American? So I’m divided. I want to be black, to know black, to luxuriate in whatever I might be calling blackness at any particular time–but to do so in order to come out the other side, to experience a humanity that is neither colorless nor reducible to color. Bach and James Brown. Sushi and fried catfish.”


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