February is Black History Month and is also a month during which several notable African-Americans have birthdays. Below are some of these heroes and some of their words—words from works worth remembering throughout the year.
February 1: Langston Hughes—Harlem Renaissance poet, short-story author, lyricist for the musical Street Scene
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
(from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes)
February 4: Rosa Parks—NAACP secretary, heroine of the Civil Rights Movement
“People have said over the years that the reason I did not give up my seat was because I was tired. I did not think of being physically tired. My feet were not hurting. I was tired in a different way…I was tired of Jim Crow laws, of legally enforced racial segregation.” (from Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth)
February 9: Alice Walker—novelist, poet, essayist
“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering about the big things and asking about the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.” (from The Color Purple)
February 17: Frederick Douglass—former slave turned Abolitionist, author and orator
”A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances carve him out as well.” (from Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass)
February 18: Toni Morrison—novelist, winner of the National Book Award, the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” (from Beloved)
February 20: Sidney Poitier—pioneering award-winning actor, memoirist
“If the image one holds of one’s self contains elements that don’t square with reality, one is best advised to let go of them, however difficult that may be.” (from his autobiography The Measure of a Man)
February 23: W.E.B. Du Bois—civil rights leader, author, editor of the NAACP magazine Crisis
”I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm-in-arm with Balzac and Dumas, while smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with truth, I dwell above the veil.” (from The Souls of Black Folk)