The annual celebration and recognition of the accomplishments of African Americans that is Black History Month started as a week-long celebration in the United States in 1926. Created by historian, Carter G. Goodson, Negro History Week, as it was called then, began as a celebration of the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Students at Kent State University celebrated the first Black History Month in 1970, and President Gerald Ford first recognized Black History Month as a national celebration in 1976. All U.S. Presidents have since designated February as Black History Month, and other countries have followed suit, including Canada, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
As Black History Month comes to a close, we wanted to take the time to honor and celebrate some of the most influential African American leaders in the legal profession who have inspired us to fight inequality and injustice, imagine the unimaginable, embrace diversity and inclusion, and be the change that we seek. Here are some of our favorite quotes, from early in U.S. history to present day.
“A country or community which fails to allow its women to choose and develop their individual beings in an atmosphere of freedom thrusts away from itself a large part of the human resources which can give it strength and vitality.”
Eunice Hunton Carter (1899-1970), Assistant District Attorney, New York. The first African American woman prosecutor to work in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
“I’d rather see if I can help a child than settle an argument between adults over money.”
Jane Bolin (1908-2007), Domestic Relations Court Judge, New York City. The first African American woman judge in the U.S.
“Something which we think is impossible now is not impossible in another decade.”
Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005), U.S. District Judge, Southern District of New York. The first African American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and the first to serve as a federal judge.
“Let us not assume for one moment that our work is done, the struggle for equal justice continues.”
Fred David Gray (Born 1930), Civil Rights Attorney, Member Alabama House of Representatives. Defended Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin and provided legal counsel to Martin Luther King, Jr.
“What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”
Barbara Jordan (1936-1996), Member U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. The first African American woman in the Texas Senate, and the first African American woman from the deep South to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.”
Carol Moseley-Braun (Born 1947), U.S. Senator from Illinois. First African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“In my humble opinion, those who come to engage in debates of consequence, and who challenge accepted wisdom, should expect to be treated badly. Nonetheless, they must stand undaunted. That is required. And that should be expected. For it is bravery that is required to secure freedom.”
Clarence Thomas (Born 1948), U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Only the second African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
“No individual or company, no matter how large or how profitable, is above the law.”
Eric Holder (Born 1951), United States Attorney General. First African American U.S. Attorney General.
“What we must not do – what we must never do – is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans, for something they cannot control, and deny what makes them human.”
Loretta Lynch (Born 1959), United States Attorney General. First African American woman to hold the office of U.S. Attorney General.
“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.”
Barack Obama (Born 1961), 44th President of the United States. First African American U.S. President.
“What I want young women and girls to know is: You are powerful and your voice matters. You’re going to walk into many rooms in your life and career where you may be the only one who looks like you or who has had the experiences you’ve had. But you remember that when you are in those rooms, you are not alone. We are all in that room with you applauding you on. Cheering your voice. And just so proud of you. So you use that voice and be strong.”
Kamala Harris (Born 1964), 49th Vice President of the United States. First African American and Asian U.S. Vice President and first woman U.S. Vice President.