A lot of people say a lot of things. But sometimes someone says something profound enough to make the history books. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X are such people. Their M.O.: equal rights.
In fact, tomorrow marks the 50-year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was signed by President Johnson and broke the barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their rights to vote.
To celebrate this monumental step toward equality, we curated nine essential civil rights quotes from nine essential human beings and matched each one with a book that takes a deeper look into each issue. Give them a go—it’s your right, after all.
“Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. … The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.” —Martin Luther King Jr., from the address at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March
Read more about the historic Civil Rights protest at Selma in David Garrow’s Protests at Selma.
“Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right. … It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of states rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.” —President Lyndon B. Johnson, from The Voting Rights Act Address
Read more about President Johnson’s struggle for Civil Rights in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.
“I feel that every young Negro must make his personal contribution toward the accomplishment of his freedom. No one man can fight alone. You can’t confine the struggle for human freedom and dignity to one place or to one man. To free the right arm and cut the left arm off—this is not progress.” —James H. Meredith, from “I Can’t Fight Alone”
Read about James H. Meredith’s heroic fight to attend University of Mississippi in Oxford in Walter Lord’s The Past that Would Not Die.
“Freedom is people realizing they are their own leader.” —Diane Nash, Coordinator of the Freedom Riders
Read more about Diane Nash and the brave work of the Freedom Riders in David Halberstam’s The Children.
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” —Rosa Parks
Read more about the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and other seminal events from 20th century American in Alistair Cooke’s America Observed.
“When you resort to violence to prove a point, you’ve just experienced a profound failure of imagination.” —Sherman Alexie
Read Alexie’s humorous and profound stories about the American Indian experience in The Toughest Indian in the World.
“Democracy is a method of realizing the broadest measure of justice to all human beings … only by putting power in the hands of each inhabitant can we hope to approximate in the ultimate use of that power the greatest good to the greatest number.” —W.E.B. Du Bois
Learn more of W.E.B. Du Bois’s powerful and wide ranging views in this selection of his quotes and excerpts from his prolific careers many texts: The Wisdom of W. E. B. DuBois.
“Segregation is that which is forced upon an inferior by a superior. Separation is done voluntarily by two equals.” —Malcolm X
In the 1960s, novelist Erksine Caldwell sets off on a journey through the American South to find his childhood friend, Bisco, lost to him through the culture of segregation. In Search of Bisco is the story of his search and offers a heartfelt account of the civil rights movement.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” —Alice Walker
In her essay collection, Living by the Word, Alice Walker explores political issues such as the controversy started by her seminal novel The Color Purple.