When Stokely Carmichael and Mukasa Willie Ricks issued the first call for Black Power in June 1966, their words channeled the ideas and actions espoused by our freedom-fighting ancestors, who—in spite of three centuries of enslavement, lynching, and racism—urged us to proclaim an undying love for our people and pride in our Black heritage. Like Carmichael and Ricks, they urged us to develop our communities, educate our people, and work unceasingly to end the oppression of all Black people. The musician-activists Sweet Honey in the Rock still urge us to ”Listen more often to the ancestors’ words.”

David Walker (1760-1831)

Title page and frontispiece showing slave on top of mountain, with his hands raised to paper labelled “libertas justitia” which appears in sky/Childs.  Retrieved from Library of Congress.

“They think because they hold us in their infernal chains of slavery, that we wish to be white, or of their color—but they are dreadfully deceived—we wish to be just as it pleased our Creator to have made us, and no avaricious and unmerciful wretches, have any business to make us of, or hold us in slavery.”

– David Walker, David Walker’s Appeal!: To the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829)

Martin Delany (1812-1885)

Civil War-era image of Martin Robinson Delany. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, source attributed to MOLLUS-Mass Civil War Photograph Collection Volume 74.

“Our elevation must be the result of self-efforts, and work of our own hands. No other human power can accomplish it. If we but determine it shall be so, it will be so. Let each one make the case his own, and endeavor to rival his neighbor, in honorable competition.”

– Martin Delany, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States (1852)

Frederick Douglass

Ambrotype of Frederick Douglass, unidentified artist, 1856, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquired through the generosity of an    anonymous donor

“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

 – Frederick Douglass, West Indian Emancipation Speech (1857)

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)

Carte-de-visite portrait of Harriet Tubman, Benjamin F. Powelson, 1868-1869, Collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture shared with the Library of Congress

“I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive.”

– Harriet Tubman to Sarah Bradford in Harriet, The Moses of Her People (1886)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, in a photograph by Mary Garrity from c. 1893, retouched by Adam Cuerden. This version has been cropped from the original photographic card. Public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

“I had bought a pistol the first thing after Tom Moss was lynched, because I expected some cowardly retaliation from the lynchers. I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap. I had already determined to sell my life as dearly as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one “lyncher” with me, this would even up the score a little bit.”

– Ida B. Wells, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (1928)

W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963)

Carte-de-visite of W.E.B. DuBois, James E. Purdy, 1907, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

“For this reason, the advance guard of the Negro people—the 8,000,000 people of Negro blood in the United States of America—must soon come to realize that if they are to take their just place in the van of Pan-Negroism, then their destiny is not absorption by the white Americans. That if in America it is to be proven for the first time in the modern world that not only Negroes are capable of evolving individual men like Toussaint, the Saviour, but are a nation stored with wonderful possibilities of culture, then their destiny is not a servile imitation of Anglo-Saxon culture, but a stalwart originality which shall unswervingly follow Negro ideals.”

– W. E. B. DuBois, “On the Conservation of Races” (1896)

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)

Marcus Garvey speaking in Menelik Hall, Sydney, Nova Scotia 1937.

“It is hoped that when the time comes for American and West Indian Negroes to settle in Africa, they will realize their responsibility and their duty. It will not be to go to Africa for the purpose of exercising an over-lordship over the natives, but it shall be the purpose of the Universal Negro Improvement Association to have established in Africa that brotherly co-operation which will make the interests of the African native and the American and West Indian Negro one and the same, that is to say, we shall enter into a common partnership to build up Africa in the interests of our race.”

– Marcus Garvey, “Africa for the Africans” (1923)

C. L. R. James (1901–1989)

Cyril Lionel Robert (CLR) James. Retrieved from Pinterest, uploaded by user Kasidah.

“Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, “Black Power!” I believe that this slogan is destined to become one of the great political slogans of our time. Of course, only time itself can tell that …. Stokley and the advocates of Black Power stand on the shoulders of all that has gone before. To too many people here in England, and unfortunately to people in the United States too … too many people see Black Power and its advocates as some sort of portent, a sudden apparition, as some racist eruption from the depths of Black oppression and Black backwardness. It is nothing of the kind. It represents the high peak of thought on the Negro question which has been going on for over half century. That much we have to know, and that much we have to be certain other people get to know.”

– C. L. R. James, “Black Power” talk given in London (1967), reprinted in The C.L.R. Reader (1992)

Ella Baker (1903-1986)

Iconic and widely reproduced photograph of Ella Baker during the Civil Rights Movement. Original source unknown.

“I have had about forty or fifty years of struggle, ever since a little boy on the streets of Norfolk called me a nigger. I struck him back. And then I had to learn that hitting back with my fists one individual was not enough. It takes organization. It takes dedication. It takes the willingness to stand by and do what has to be done, when it has to be done. A nice gathering like today is not enough. You have to go back and reach out to your neighbors who don’t speak to you. And you have to reach out to your friends who think they are making it good. And get them to understand that they—as well as you and I—cannot be free in America or anywhere else where there is capitalism and imperialism. Until we can get people to recognize that they themselves have to make the struggle and have to make the fight for freedom every day in the year, every year until they win it.”

– Ella Baker, Puerto Rican Solidarity Day Speech (1974)

Adam Clayton Powell (1908-1972)

Adam Clayton Powell giving a speech about civil rights legislation at Colgate University on February 2, 1955.

“Though racial persecution presses its crown of thorns on our brows, our faith in God must never falter. We must sustain that faith which helps us to cast off the leprosy of self-shame in our Black skins and lift us up to the glorious healing power of belief in the Excellence of Black power. We must have the faith to build mighty Black universities, Black businesses, and elect Black men as governors, mayors, and senators.”

– Adam Clayton Powell, Howard University Baccalaureate Address (1966)

Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972)

Kwame Nkrumah during a state visit to the United States. Extracted from photo: President John F. Kennedy Meets with the President of the Republic of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Abbie Rowe, photographer. Published by Wikimedia Commons user Martin H.

“Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment …. The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”

– Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism (1965)

Julius Nyerere (1922-1999)

Mr. Julius Kambarage Nyerere, leader of the Elected Members in Tanganyika’s Legislative Council and President of the territory’s largest political party, the Tanganyika African National Union, photographer unknown, n.d., National Archives United Kingdom

“The present economic order governing international production, development, and exchange does not in practice ensure progress towards meeting those basic needs for all people, all over the world. The plea of the poor is a new international economic order which embraces for its objective the happiness of mankind.”

– Julius Nyerere, Speech given at Howard University: “The Plea of the Poor: New Economic Order Needed for the World Community.” (1977)

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)

Frantz Fanon, photographer and date unknown, original source unknown

“To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.”

– Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)


El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz     (Malcolm X) (1925-1965)

Malcolm X from the St. Louis American, creator, Michael Ochs Archives.

That’s our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary. We don’t feel that in 1964, living in a country that is supposedly based upon freedom, and supposedly the leader of the free world, we don’t think that we should have to sit around and wait for some segregationist Congressmen and Senators and a President from Texas in Washington, D.C., to make up their minds that our people are due now some degree of civil rights. No, we want it now or we don’t think anybody should have it.”

– Malcolm X, Speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, (1964)