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21 Inspiring Quotes From Black Leaders From Throughout American History

The words of these 21 individuals will inspire you to do more.

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Originally published on Feb. 21, 2018

From Oprah Winfrey to Maya Angelou to Booker T. Washington, African American leaders and entrepreneurs past and present have made great strides toward creating a better world. These black leaders and entrepreneurs have long battled, and continue to, many obstacles with odds stacked against them.

Related: 5 Ways to Make a Mark on the World Like Oprah Winfrey

Throughout a history of oppression, these individuals have shown resilience and achieved success during times of adversity. That's why February, Black History Month, is dedicated to identifying and praising these leaders who have created positive change and impact.

To learn more, here are 21 inspiring quotes from some of the most successful African American entrepreneurs and leaders throughout history and today.

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Oprah Winfrey

"You have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world."
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Stevie Wonder

"You can't base your life on other people's expectations."
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Frederick Douglass

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress."
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Michael Jordan

"I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."

Related: 8 Quotes on Motivation, Hard Work and More from Basketball Legend Michael Jordan

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Madam C.J. Walker

"I got my start by giving myself a start."
Sam.vaghani | Wikimedia Commons

Reginald F. Lewis

"Keep going, no matter what."
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Quincy Jones

"Imagine what a harmonious world could be if every single person, both young and old, shared a little of what he is good at."
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Martin Luther King Jr.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
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Barack Obama

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some time. We are the ones we've been waiting for."

Related: 10 Barack Obama Quotes on Hard Work, Success, Motivation and More

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Muhammad Ali

"Don't count the days, make the days count."
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Malcolm X

"Stumbling is not falling."
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Maya Angelou

"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style."
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Shirley Chisholm

"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas."
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Booker T. Washington

"Character, not circumstances, makes the man."
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Jackie Robinson

"Life is not a spectator sport. If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life."

Related: 10 of the Most Successful African-American Entrepreneurs
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George Washington Carver

"When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."
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James Baldwin

"The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in."
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Toni Morrison

"If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
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Thurgood Marshall

"Each of you, as an individual, must pick your own goals. Listen to others, but do not become a blind follower."

Related: They're Doing It: Awe-Inspiring African American Female Entrepreneurs

Jason LaVeris | Getty Images

Diana Ross

"You can't just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself."
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Spike Lee

"I think people who have faults are a lot more interesting than people who are perfect."
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Robert F. Smith

Robert F. Smith, billionaire investor and founder of Vista Equity Partners, addressed Morehouse College's graduating class on Sunday and included a shocking announcement -- that his family would start a grant to eliminate their student loans, which could reportedly total upwards of $10 million. 

“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” Smith said. “We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”