assembled by Craig Chalquist
We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what, and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined.
–N. Scott Momaday
The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voice of the people themselves.
The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions.
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.
–Susan B. Anthony
To separate from my culture (as from my family) I had to feel competent enough on the outside and secure enough inside to live life on my own. Yet in leaving home I did not lose touch with my origins because lo mexicano is in my system. I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back.
The story of the African-American people is the story of the settlement and growth of America itself, a universal tale that all people should experience.
–Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.
–1848 Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions
We are not here as wards. We are not here as dependents. We are here as full-fledged American citizens vouchsafed equality of citizenship by the federal Constitution.
–William Monroe Trotter
…On the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
– Emancipation Proclamation (Abraham Lincoln)
I wasn’t going to be one of those people who die wondering, “What if?” I would keep putting my dream to the test — even though it meant living with uncertainty and fear of failure. This is the Shadowland of hope, and anyone with a dream must learn to live there. If you can’t live here, get back to YOUR roots and LEARN to live here!
It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods, and they love and eat one another. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.
My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing….Under that gospel, the citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth’s political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.
Patriotism is balderdash. Our side, our state, our town is boyish enough. But it is true that every foot of soil has its proper quality, that the grape on either side of the same fence has its own flavor, and on every acre on the globe, every group of people, every point of climate has its own moral meaning whereof it is the symbol. For such patriotism let us stand.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
The truth is the kindest thing we can give folks in the end.
–Harriet Beecher Stowe
Back of the writhing, yelling, cruel-eyed demons who break, destroy, maim and lynch and burn at the stake, is a knot, large or small, of normal human beings, and these human beings at heart are desperately afraid of something. Of what? Of many things, but usually of losing their jobs, being declassed, degraded, or actually disgraced; of losing their hopes, their savings, their plans for their children; of the actual pangs of hunger, of dirt, of crime.
–W. E. B. DuBois
If we have to suppress everything we don’t like to hear, this country is on a pretty wobbly basis. This country was founded on disrespect and the denial of authority, and it is no time to stop free discussion.
The genius of America lies In its capacity to forge a single nation from peoples of remarkably diverse racial, religious, and ethnic origins….The American Creed envisages a nation composed of individuals making their own choices and accountable to themselves, not a nation based on inviolable ethnic communities….It is what all Americans should learn, because it is what binds all Americans together.
–Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
The war between the ideal and the real, between what’s right and what’s convenient, between the larger good and personal interest is the contest that unfolds in the soul of every American.
The real question, the all-commanding question, is whether American justice, American liberty, American civilization, American law, and American Christianity can be made to include and protect, alike and forever, all American citizens… It is whether this great nation shall conquer its prejudices, rise to the dignity of its professions, and proceed in the sublime course of truth and liberty marked out for itself during the late war, or shall swing back to its ancient moorings of slavery and barbarism. The trouble is that the colored people have still to contend against ’a fierce and formidable foe,’ the ghost of a by-gone, dead and buried institution.
When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.
The richness of our communities, our cities, and our nation lies in recognizing and celebrating our diversity. That diversity is not only in our various ethnicity and cultures, but also in the diversity of our sexual orientations. We all contribute, each in our own way, to the strength, vitality, and the well-being of our society.
The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.
We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say “common struggle” because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination.
–Coretta Scott King
And I tell you this: you do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’—not not ‘leadership.’…I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion—and conciliation—and education—and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only kind of leadership I know—or believe in—or will practice.
I for one will join with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change the miserable condition that exists on this earth.
–El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
I’m a Midwesterner, and everyone in Ohio is excited. I’m also a New Yorker, and a New Jerseyan, and an American, plus I’m an African-American, and a woman. I know it seems like I’m spreading like algae when I put it this way, but I’d like to think of the prize being distributed to these regions and nations and races.
In English, my name means hope. In Spanish, it means too many letters. It means sadness. It means waiting. It is like the number nine, a muddy color.
I am much more interested in defending my ideas than defending my identities.
Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet.
At least I’ve had to come to that in my life, to realize that this stuff called failure, this stuff, this debris of historical trauma, family trauma, you know, stuff that can kill your spirit, is actually raw material to make things with and to build a bridge. You can use those materials to build a bridge over that which would destroy you.
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.
My Islamic faith taught me that if you can’t change something with your hands, change it with your tongue, and if you can’t change it with your tongue then desire to change it in your heart.
Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long-forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors.
My work is simply to say to America, You have a marvelous ideal, and you should live up to it.
–Martin Luther King Jr.
- “Usa Raises Her Voice: Recalling the Soul of the United States.”
- “What’s In a Name: Pre-Columbian America.”