Quotations about   race

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We must make it clear that in our struggle to end this thing called segregation, we are not struggling for ourselves alone. We are not struggling only to free seventeen million Negroes. The festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. We are struggling to save the soul of America.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Keep Moving from This Mountain,” Spelman College (10 Apr 1960)
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Added on 3-Nov-17 | Last updated 3-Nov-17
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We are all boarders on one table — White man, black man, ox and eagle, bee, & worm.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (13-14 Jul 1840)
Added on 19-Dec-16 | Last updated 19-Dec-16
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The truest American president we have ever had, the companion of Washington in our love and honor, recognized that the poorest man, however outraged, however ignorant, however despised, however black, was, as a man, his equal. The child of the American people was their most prophetic man, because, whether as small shop-keeper, as flat-boatman, as volunteer captain, as honest lawyer, as defender of the Declaration, as President of the United States, he knew by the profoundest instinct and the widest experience and reflection, that in the most vital faith of this country it is just as honorable for an honest man to curry a horse and black a boot as it is to raise cotton or corn, to sell molasses or cloth, to practice medicine or law, to gamble in stocks or speculate in petroleum. He knew the European doctrine that the king makes the gentleman; but he believed with his whole soul the doctrine, the American doctrine, that worth makes the man.

George William Curtis (1824-1892) American essayist, editor, reformer, orator
“The Good Fight” (1865)
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Added on 11-Jul-16 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“I Have a Dream,” speech, Washington, DC (28 Aug 1963)
Added on 7-Jul-16 | Last updated 7-Jul-16
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Looky here, America
What you done done —
Let things drift
Until the riots come.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright
“Beaumont to Detroit: 1943”
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Added on 14-May-15 | Last updated 14-May-15
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That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright
“Justice” (1923)
Added on 16-Dec-14 | Last updated 16-Dec-14
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When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered. We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“On the Mindless Menace of Violence,” speech, City Club of Cleveland (5 Apr 1968)
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Added on 15-Dec-14 | Last updated 15-Dec-14
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All of us, no matter from what land our parents came, no matter in what way we may severally worship our Creator, must stand shoulder to shoulder in a united America for the elimination of race and religious prejudice. We must stand for a reign of equal justice to both big and small.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
“Americanism,” speech to the Knights of Columbus, New York (12 Oct 1915)
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Added on 26-Nov-14 | Last updated 26-Nov-14
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I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal — equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, or yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all, constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Alton, Illinois (15 Oct 1858)

On the Declaration of Independence.
Added on 19-Nov-14 | Last updated 19-Nov-14
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We must recognize the full human equality of all of our people before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous, although it is; not because the laws of God command it, although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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Added on 10-Nov-14 | Last updated 10-Nov-14
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I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.

Muhammad Ali (b. 1942) American boxer [b. Cassius Clay]
Quoted in New York Times (21 Nov 1965)
Added on 28-Oct-14 | Last updated 28-Oct-14
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In one generation we have moved from denying a black man service at a lunch counter to elevating one to the highest military office in the nation, and to being a serious contender for the presidency. This is a magnificent country and I am proud to be one of its sons.

Colin Powell (b. 1937) American military leader, Secretary of State
News conference, Alexandria, VA (8 Nov 1995)

While announcing his decision not to seek the presidential nomination.
Added on 22-Jan-14 | Last updated 22-Jan-14
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I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 Apr 1963)
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Added on 12-Jun-09 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran a very long time as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) English writer and mathematician [pseud. of Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]
Through the Looking-Glass, ch. 2 (1871)
Added on 23-Jan-08 | Last updated 1-May-14
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It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong — but that’s the way to bet.

Hugh E. Keough (1864-1912) Canadian-American sports journalist
(Attributed)

Variants:
  • "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but the betting is best that way."
  • "To be sure the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but it is ninety-nine times in a hundred."
Also attributed to Damon Runyon, Franklin Pierce Adams, Grantland Rice, and Burns Mantle, all of of whom in turn credited Keough. The saying itself, a take-off on Ecclesiastes 9:11, has a number of antecedents: see here for more background.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Aug-15
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