This week we’re all celebrating America’s 238th birthday, but there’s another momentous occasion on Wednesday, July 2, that also deserves commemoration—the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being signed into law by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Fifty years ago, the U.S. took a step toward fulfilling the “all men are created equal” promise laid out in the Declaration of Independence by enacting—after a long legislative journey—a law that made illegal discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age.
We’re marking the anniversary with some of our favorite quotes about equality and civil rights throughout history from a diverse set of sources that includes Nelson Mandela as well as George Clooney and Maya Angelou as well as Macklemore. We’ll start with what Johnson said at the signing of the bill on July 2, 1964:
1. “This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us to go to work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts, to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country. So tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every working man, every housewife — I urge every American — to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people, and to bring peace to our land.” —Lyndon B. Johnson
2. “Because of the Civil Rights movement, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody … Not just for blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos; and Asians and Native Americans; and gay Americans and Americans with a disability. They swung open for you, and they swung open for me. And that’s why I’m standing here today—because of those efforts, because of that legacy.” —Barack Obama
3. “This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened … It ought to to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.” —John F. Kennedy
4. “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” —Maya Angelou
5. “I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” —Theodore Roosevelt
6. “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
7. “It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” —Harvey Milk
8. “Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.” —Ellen DeGeneres
9. “I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.” —Malala Yousafzai
10. “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” —Gloria Steinem
11. “If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay, and they should not be denied healthcare. They should not be bullied. They don’t deserve to be victims of violence. … That’s what people need to understand, that it’s okay and that if you are uncomfortable with it, then you need to look at yourself.” —Laverne Cox
12. “Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women.” —Joss Whedon
13. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” —Nelson Mandela
14. “I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.” ―Dr. Seuss
15. “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” —Jimmy Carter
16. “I might not be the same, but that’s not important / No freedom ’til we’re equal, damn right I support it” —Macklemore
17. “I’m a supporter of gay rights. And not a closet supporter either. From the time I was a kid, I have never been able to understand attacks upon the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being … by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.” —Paul Newman
18. “As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.’” —Harper Lee
19. “At some point in our lifetime, gay marriage won’t be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.” —George Clooney
20. “Unless modern civilization is a failure, it is entirely feasible and practicable for two races in such essential political, economic and religious harmony as the white and colored people in America, to develop side by side in peace and mutual happiness, the peculiar contribution which each has to make to the culture of their common country.” —W.E.B. Du Bois
Want more motivating quotes?
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