what happens when black luminaries speak? wisdom shines for all of us

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In a society where overt racism and systematic oppression was the norm, the following Black luminaries were still able to give their thought-provoking words of wisdom to the world selflessly for their own community and beyond. Below is just a small sampling of the widespread wisdom these brave men and women shared in their lives, along with a brief biography of each one.

“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end, the real forgiveness is in one’s own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you. When a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thin or too sexual or too asexual, that’s rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don’t have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach.”
― Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American author, poet, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees.[3] Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim. (Source)

“Give light and people will find the way”
― Ella Baker

Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986) was an African-American civil rights and human rights activist. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned over five decades. She worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses. She was a critic of professionalized, charismatic leadership and a promoter of grassroots organizing and radical democracy. She has been called “One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement. (Source)

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
― James Baldwin

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic. His essays, as collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America, and their inevitable if unnameable tensions. Some Baldwin essays are book-length, for instance, The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). Baldwin’s novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration of not only blacks, but also of gay and bisexual men, while depicting some internalized obstacles to such individuals’ quests for acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, written well before gay rights were widely espoused in America: Giovanni’s Room (1956). (Source)

“The greatest evil in our country today is…ignorance…We need to be taught to study rather than to believe.”
― Septima Poinsette Clark

Septima Poinsette Clark (May 3, 1898–December 15, 1987) was an American educator and civil rights activist. Clark developed the literacy and citizenship workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting rights and civil rights for African Americans in the American Civil Rights Movement. Septima Clark’s work was commonly underappreciated by Southern male activists. She became known as the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother” of the American Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr. commonly referred to Clark as “The Mother of the Movement”. Clark’s argument for her position in the Civil Rights Movement was one that claimed “knowledge could empower marginalized groups in ways that formal legal equality couldn’t.” (Source)

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
― Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement from Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writings. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Even many Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave. Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). After the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, it covered events during and after the Civil War. Douglass also actively supported women’s suffrage and held several public offices. Without his approval, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket. A firm believer in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, Douglass famously said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” (Source)

“God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement. ”
― Marcus Garvey

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., ONH (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940), was a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). He founded the Black Star Line, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands. Prior to the 20th century, leaders such as Prince Hall, Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Henry Highland Garnet advocated the involvement of the African diaspora in African affairs. Garvey was unique in advancing a Pan-African philosophy to inspire a global mass movement and economic empowerment focusing on Africa known as Garveyism. Promoted by the UNIA as a movement of African Redemption, Garveyism would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement (some sects of which proclaim Garvey as a prophet). Garveyism intended persons of African ancestry in the diaspora to “redeem” the nations of Africa and for the European colonial powers to leave the continent. His essential ideas about Africa were stated in an editorial in the Negro World entitled “African Fundamentalism”, where he wrote: “Our union must know no clime, boundary, or nationality… to let us hold together under all climes and in every country…” (Source)

“Whether you have a Ph. D. or no D. we’re in this bag together.”
― Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer (born Fannie Lou Townsend; October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and philanthropist. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Source)

“We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity.”
― Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton (August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969) was an American activist and revolutionary, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and deputy chairman of the national BPP. Hampton was murdered while sleeping at his apartment during a raid by a tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in December 1969. Hampton’s murder was chronicled in the documentary films The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971) and The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015), as well as the episode “A Nation of Law? (1968–1971)” of the critically acclaimed documentary series Eyes on the Prize. (Source)

Credit for all the quotes: GoodReads.com 

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