Here at F Yeah History we love a history quote, but more than that, we love both the stories behind how those quotes came to be and how they still create change today!
So we were delighted when Radical Tea Towel asked us if we wanted to write something inspired by their collection of history infused home-ware and accessories. And so, we’ve delved deep into the Radical Tea Towel collection and come out with the real stories behind 5 of history’s most important quotes.
Not only that, but at the end of this article you can find a giveaway for goodies inspired by these very quotes!
OK then, got all that? Lets jump into this:
1.“You judge a society by the decency of living of the weakest.” Zygmunt Bauman
Zygmunt Bauman grew up a polish Jewish refugee, having escaped the Nazis with his family to the USSR. There he became a hailed military hero, thanks to his actions during the Second World War, where he fought tirelessly against those that had thrown him out of his country.
After the war he returned to Poland, becoming a sociologist. However in 1968, Zygmunt once more became a refugee, after he was forced out of his homeland thanks to a political purge.
So you could say that when it comes to how societies treat those most in need, Zygmunt had some experience!
Zygmunt created a life for himself in the UK, dedicating his life to decades worth of incredible sociological thinking. He set out the case for historians and well, everyone, to not see The Holocaust as solely a chapter of Jewish history, but rather a crucial part of our shared history. He analysed the sudden rapid rise of right wing politics in Europe and America and how as a society the way we now have less tangential fears, directly impacts the way people treat those other than themselves.
So with that in mind, the phrase, ‘You judge a society by the decency of living of the weakest’ is in no way an indication of how to view a ruling body, or a quip to throw out whilst rolling your eyes.
Its decades worth of Zygmunt Baumans work rolled into one sentence. That the way societies around the world, continue to treat those ‘other’ or ‘weak’ is intrinsically wrong. But (and here’s the important part) people have the capacity to change. To confront their wrongs and to amend them. That we, as a collective, can always fight for what’s right.
2. “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution” Emma Goldman
Now this is a pretty interesting quote, because, erm… Emma Goldman never said it…
That’s right, feminist and anarchist, Emma, never said or wrote those words. But before you scroll on, wait! Because the story behind how this quote came to be and its ever growing legacy is frankly, fascinating.
In 1991, women’s lib radical and writer, Alix Kate’s Schulman, busted the myth behind the quote, showing it to be a paraphrase from Emma Goldman’s 1931 autobiography, Living My Life, rather than a direct quote.
In her biography, Emma recounts a time when she was pulled aside by a man for dancing to wildly at a party. He told Emma her actions were out of line. That being so publicly enthusiastic belittled her standing as an anarchist, along with the cause itself. Emma was having none of this.
‘I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy.
I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world–prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal’
The essence of this is: ‘If I cant dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’. It’s a perfect summary of everything Emma Goldman was about. The kind of thing that always had to be a paraphrase of something, because it’s too perfect not to be. So it makes sense then, that this crowd sourced ‘quote’ sparked its very own movement!
‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’ became a rallying cry during the second wave of feminism. And through this, an entirely new generation discovered Emma Goldman and her prolific litany of work.
But it doesn’t end there. Today you can still see this quote, relevant as ever. It’s at women’s marches. At Pride. At political protests. And I think Emma would have loved this.
Emma Goldman dedicated her life to working out a new way of doing things. A way that lifted up the downtrodden and returned rights to those denied them. So the fact that today, It’s those very people, fighting and holding up placards which convey her very essence, well I think she’d be proud.
3.“Still like air, I rise” Maya Angelou
Writer and civil rights legend, Maya Angelou left behind one of the worlds most culturally important bodies of work, with her most well known piece being the poem, Still I Rise.
Written in 1978 it encapsulates the struggle of America’s civil rights movement (which is what Maya Angelou had in mind when she wrote it)
‘You may shoot me 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 weaves her personal experiences into the piece. Both as a civil rights activist, but also as a victim of abuse.
Maya Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, when she was just 7. After telling her family what the man had done, he turned up dead a few days later. Young Maya convinced herself that by speaking out she had effectively killed this man. So she silenced herself. Not speaking for 6 years.
Still I Rise takes all of this. The abuse, the trauma and the despair. The individual and shared experience. But most importantly, the resilience. To continue to live, to fight and rise.
What truly makes ‘Still I rise’ endure, is that its message is universal.
Though written with American civil rights in mind, it was read by Nelson Mandela at his 1994 Presidential Inauguration. Years after he had first read those words whilst imprisoned.
The message remains as relevant as ever. In 2018 alone, Maya’s words have inspired a charity campaign supporting children’s advocacy in third world countries, think pieces, music and art. Words that are still held aloft by protesters, and held closely by those that need them most.
4. “I do not wish for women to have power over men, but for themselves” Mary Wollstonecraft
This is a real favourite of mine! Considered a feminist pioneer, Mary Wollstonecraft made it clear that she wasn’t fighting for dominance, but equality.
The quote comes from her 1792 book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The book was groundbreaking in its era, acting as a revolutionary bible of sorts. But what made this book even more incredible was the woman that wrote it.
Mary grew up with an alcoholic abusive father. He beat her mother, Mary would try and stop him, so he’d beat her.
She was sent to school and gained the most basic education possible, whilst watching her brothers allowed an education that pushed and challenged them.
Just like her sisters, Mary was being set up to take on the role of wife and mother, whether she wanted it or not. So far so, unfortunately, normal.
But here’s the thing. Mary refused to go down the path laid out for her. She defied every single social norm and set out to become a self made woman, when such a concept didn’t really exist.
There was no clear indicator that of all the women in the world, Mary would be the one to shake everything up. She was just an average wilful woman who’d had enough.
Along with coming up with this quote (which more than 200 years later is still the perfect definition of feminism) she laid the groundwork for all the movements that would come after her. Arguing for women’s right to reason, right to education and right to having rights. And she did all this, self-educated, self-sufficient and self motivated.
5.“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” – Martin Luther King Jr
In December 1963, Martin Luther King gave a speech at Western Michigan University. It came at the end of a year that had seen a huge rise in civil rights activism. King had led a march on Washington and all across America, owners of segregated businesses were finding themselves the subject of mass picket and protest. The tide was turning. But it didn’t come without tragedy.
In September, 4 young black girls were killed when a bomb was detonated outside a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Though the perpetrators were known (all members of the KKK) no justice was bought.
Across the country peaceful civil rights protesters faced escalating violence. And across in Vietnam, the rising discord in the war was matched by a rise in racial tensions.
America was at a crossroads. And then as all this tension and protest started to reach boiling point, the unthinkable happened. The president was assassinated.
Martin Luther King Jr took to the stage in Michigan, less than 1 month after JFKs death.
2000 people, scared, raw and on edge, came to see King speak. He sat alone for half an hour to collect his thoughts and then walked out to the waiting crowd.
Facing the crowd, King gave an ultimatum. That America needed to learn to live together as brothers or the country would die as fools. Segregation was at an end and in its death throes, it was poisoning the country. America had to make a choice and to survive, it needed to learn to live together. To fight for justice for all and also to forgive:
“In spite of the difficulties of this hour, I am convinced that we have the resources to make the American Dream a reality….””With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation to a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
More than 50 years later it’s a message that’s as true today as it ever was.
Inspired by these quotes? Good! Even better, the lovely folks at Radical Tea Towel are offering F Yeah History readers a fantastic giveaway, so you can fill your home with badass history. For a chance to win 5 tea towels adorned with each of these incredible quotes, all you need to do is CLICK HERE
The giveaway finishes on 20th Decemeber 2018, so make sure to get in before then!
Radical Tea Towel is family run company hailing from South Wales. They not only create home ware and accessories inspired by history’s most incredible people and movements, but they also do some really fantastic charity work. Every year they organise a charity giveaway and also have lots of products that include a charity donation. For more info on that, click here.
*we were not paid for this article. We just like the company!