Black History Month - Speakers

Celebrating Black History Month: the orators who spoke out

Feb 20, 2020
To mark Black History Month this February, we’re exploring how African American culture has defined American culture as a whole. For so much of their existence, black American voices have been supressed. But the fact that so many of the nation’s iconic speeches belong to those same voices is testament to the power of their will throughout their struggle. Here, we examine just three incredible orators who left an indelible mark on American history.

Keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama
Here in 2020, we know exactly who Barack Obama is, what he’s achieved, and what he represents for billions of people across the world. We’ve heard him give countless captivating speeches on a wide variety of topics. But back in 2004, he was little more than a rising star in Illinois politics. Chosen to deliver the keynote speech at 2004’s Democratic National Convention, Obama produced a moment that transfixed commentators on both the left and the right, and started him on his path to the Whitehouse.
Black History - Barack Obama
“What does American democracy mean to me?” Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was known as the “First Lady of the Struggle”, owing to how much she guided the Roosevelt administration on civil rights issues. A true tour-de-force, Mary was one of seventeen children born to former slaves, and grew up picking cotton for the family that once owned her parents. By 1923, she’d established the first fully accredited black institution of higher education in Florida – and from then on, she regularly held captivated audiences. Her most memorable speech, however, came on the eve of America’s entrance into WW2. Speaking as part of a panel focused on the question ‘what does American democracy mean to me?’ Mary spoke thunderously and eloquently about how African Americans had always been willing to die for American democracy, but were still excluded from its promise of freedom.
Black History - Mary McLeod Bethune
I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, MLK Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a man remembered and celebrated generation after generation. He represented the powerful face of America’s nonviolent civil rights movement, and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is taught every single day in every corner of the globe – it’s a vision of hope that has never been articulated so vividly and emotionally. However, King delivered a speech of equal power, just one day before his tragic assassination. Stood before a church crowd, King spoke for over half an hour without a single note in his hand, calling for unity and nonviolent protest, while challenging the US to live up to its ideals. This was to be his final ever speech, and in it, he brought both himself and his audience to tears.
Black History - MLK Jr.