Illustration (featured from left to right): Abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Vice President Kamala Harris
Black Americans have made a huge impact on history not only with their actions, but also with their words. Recognizing great Black American voices is one way to honor Black History Month with students, broaden perspectives, and cultivate inclusivity in the classroom.
We were inspired to pull together seven Black History Month quotes for students to pair with classroom activities. We’ve included activities that will prompt your students to think more deeply about each person, their quote, and the impact of their words. Use these activities as part of your Black History Month curriculum—or any time of year!
Black History Month Quotes for Elementary Students and Beyond (Grades 4 and Up)
Below, we share a mix of historical and contemporary Black voices to engage students. Have students connect one of the following activities to a quote from this list. Or, have students research a quote from a prominent Black figure on their own.
A few examples of iconic and recent figures to quote include civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., poet Amanda Gorman, talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and tennis player Serena Williams, among others. If you have any dancers in your classroom, be sure to take a look at this list of quotes from choreographer Alvin Ailey! These sources provide many quotes to consider, including some better aimed at an older audience. Pick ones that you will feel comfortable discussing and that your students will be able to analyze.
We’ve given you a head start with the following seven quotes from inspiring Black Americans.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.—President Barack Obama, from his 2008 Super Tuesday speech
We have come too far together to ever turn back. So we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out.—U.S. Representative John Lewis, from his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech
If there is no struggle, there is no progress.—Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, from his 1857 address on West India Emancipation
We have no right to sit silently by while the inevitable seeds are sown for a harvest of disaster to our children, black and white.—Author W.E.B. Du Bois, from The Souls of Black Folk
Of course laws will not eliminate prejudice from the hearts of human beings. But that is no reason to allow prejudice to continue to be enshrined in our laws—to perpetuate injustice through inaction.—U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm, from her “I Am for the Equal Rights Amendment” speech
There are two things I’ve got a right to, and these are, Death or Liberty – one or the other I mean to have.—Abolitionist Harriet Tubman, from Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman
Even in dark times, we not only dream, we do. We not only see what has been, we see what can be.—Vice President Kamala Harris, from her 2021 Inauguration speech
Activity 1: Start a Quote Discussion
Help students put a quote by a Black American in historical context. After choosing a quote to analyze, they can consider these questions: What do the words mean to them? Why did the person say this? Are their words still relevant today? Why or why not? Download the Quote Discussion Chart to help students gather their thoughts.
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