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58 inspirational Juneteenth quotes that capture the true meaning of the holiday

Reflect on these powerful words from Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela and others.

As its name implies, Juneteenth (a combination of "June" and "nineteenth") is celebrated annually on June 19. But since it falls on a Sunday this year, the federal holiday will be observed on Monday, June 20. As a result, government buildings will keep their doors closed and many Americans will have the day off from work.

The holiday, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 2021. However, it's been a pillar in American history since the late 1800s.

Although slaves had formally been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it didn’t apply to those working in states under Confederate control. On June 19, 1965, two months after the Civil War ended, Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas with a decree to free enslaved people. The streets erupted with song, dance and cheer — and Juneteenth was born.

Today, Americans celebrate this important day in history with Juneteenth-inspired recipes, family-friendly activities and moments of deep reflection. To better understand the holiday's significance, check out these Juneteenth quotes about freedom and equality.

Below, we’ve collected a range of inspirational words from civil rights leaders, political activists and other famous faces. Post your favorites on Instagram or Facebook to uplift past and present Black voices.

  • "We have simply got to make people aware that none of us are free until we’re all free, and we aren’t free yet." — Opal Lee
  • "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "Where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can." — Barack Obama
  • "We are fighting for a different world, and we are building new muscles to do so." ― Alicia Garza, "The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart"
  • "I always tell young people to hold on to their dreams. And sometimes you have to stand up for what you think is right even if you have to stand alone." — Claudette Colvin
  • "Black liberation has never just been about Black people. It’s been about a fight for our humanity, for our dignity." — Patrisse Cullors
  • "The pursuit of justice is all I have ever known." — Harry Belafonte
  • "You may shoot my with your words / You may cut me with your eyes / You may kill me with your hatefulness / But still, like air, I’ll rise." — Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise"
  • "Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "I got to fight on till I leave here, and I hope I leave some footprints." — Mattie Jones
  • "I don’t measure America by its achievement but by its potential." — Shirley Chisholm
  • "Whether we are born here or seek refuge here, there’s a place for us all. We must remember it’s not my America or your America. It’s our America." — Michelle Obama
  • "Let no voice but your own speak to you from the depths. Let no influence but your own raise you in time of peace and time of war." — Marcus Garvey

Activist and author Angela Davis was a member of the Black Panther Party.
Activist and author Angela Davis was a member of the Black Panther Party.Klaus Rose / ullstein bild / Getty Images
  • "Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible." ― Angela Davis
  • "There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up."  — Booker T. Washington
  • "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." — Ida B. Wells-Barnett
  • "Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth." — Malcolm X
  • "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." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." — Barack Obama
  • "I thrive on obstacles. If I’m told that it can’t be told, then I push harder." — Issa Rae
  • “To the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before." — Kamala Harris
  • "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "Anger is not a sustainable emotion in and of itself. It has to be transformed into a deep love for the possibility of who we can be." ― Alicia Garza, "Rage Becomes Her"
  • "Service it the rent that you pay for room on this earth." — Shirley Chisholm
  • "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part." — John Lewis, "Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change"

Nelson Mandela was the first Black president of South Africa, laying the foundation for democracy.
Nelson Mandela was the first Black president of South Africa, laying the foundation for democracy.Louis Gubb / Corbis / Getty Images
  • "A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of." — Nelson Mandela
  • "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept." ― Angela Davis
  • "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much — for we can’t take more than our pint’ll hold." — Sojourner Truth
  • "Civility is the recognition that all people have dignity that’s inherent to their person, no matter their religion race, gender, sexuality or ability." — Opal Tometi
  • "I am standing on the shoulders of my own role models, generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity but who got up every day and went to work believing in the promise of America, showing others through their determination and, yes, their perseverance that good, good things can be done in this great country." — Ketanji Brown Jackson
  • "What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations." — Barack Obama
  • "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." ― Angela Davis
  • "We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "When we show up, act boldly, and practice the best ways to be wrong, we fail forward. No matter where we end up, we’ve grown from where we began." — Stacey Abrams
  • "Peace is necessary. For justice, it is necessary. For hope, it is necessary, for our future." — Harry Belafonte
  • "To be once defeated is to find cause for an everlasting struggle to reach the top." — Marcus Garvey

Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote about being Black in the south in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote about being Black in the south in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.Chicago History Museum / Getty Images
  • "The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." ― Ida B. Wells-Barnett
  • "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "Movements don’t die because struggle doesn’t die." — Harry Belafonte
  • "Hope is not the absence of despair; it is the ability to come back to our purpose, again and again." — Alicia Garza, "The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart"
  • "It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody." — Malcolm X
  • "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." — Nelson Mandela
  • "You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms." — Michelle Obama
  • "No matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off, or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny." — Barack Obama
  • "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "But if you know what life is worth / You would look for yours on Earth / And now a you see the light / You stand up for your right." — Bob Marley, "Get Up Stand Up"
  • "Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society." — John Lewis, "Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change"
  • "Let us not assume for one moment that our work is done, the struggle for equal justice continues." — Fred David Gray
  • "Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won." — John Lewis, "Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change"
  • "Remember this in the darkest moments, when the work doesn’t seem worth it, and change seems just out of reach: out of our willingness to push through comes a tremendous power." — Stacey Abrams
  • "I knew then and I know now, when it comes to justice, there’s no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, 'This is not right.'" — Claudette Colvin
  • “We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are." — Oprah Winfrey
  • "Our strength lies in the fact that we are supported by the majority of Americans. And our motivation lies in our obligation to make sure their voices are heard and acknowledged by those who set public policy in this country." — Faye Wattleton

Opal Lee, the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” urged President Joe Biden to declare Juneteenth National Independence Day a federal holiday in 2021.
Opal Lee, the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” urged President Joe Biden to declare Juneteenth National Independence Day a federal holiday in 2021.Drew Angerer / Getty Images
  • "I just don’t know how to describe it. I just feel like it’s the beginning of something great, and I want to be a part of it." — Opal Lee
  • "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome." — Booker T. Washington
  • "When day comes we step out of the shade / Aflame and unafraid / The new dawn blooms as we free it / For there is always light / If only we're brave enough to see it / If only we're brave enough to be it." — Amanda Gorman