Trained as a Jazz Musician at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama at the height of the Jim Crow Era in the South, Ellison's musical aspirations soon transformed into a sensibility more literary in nature when he became exposed to T.S. Eliot's renowned poem "The Wasteland". Publishing his first novel in 1952 titled "Invisible Man" which won The National Book Awards and placed 19th on the Modern Library out of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, much like his poetic inspiration, Ellison has become a figure of timeless renown in his own right. Along with Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin, he was one of few writers to emerge in his timeframe who explored the perseverance of racism in America, and how it, to this day, hinders African-Americans from achieving a veritable sense of identity in the United States.
1. "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
Much of who we are, and what we are is predicated on how people see us. If nothing is how they see us, then there's no what, and there's no who, because to them, we are nothing. Not even human, the only thing worthy of human consideration.
2. "Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat."
In life as we live through it, we will come to know much sadness, loss, and defeat. However, of all that withers and crumbles into dust, what is never forgotten is the honour, love, and courage we are capable of exhibiting in an effort to seize that one slim moment of triumph. A triumph that washes away the despair of defeat, loss, and sadness, and ignites anew, a courage, love, and honour that have been our meaning and glory, and of meanings and glories past.
3. "I was never more hated when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I've tried to articulate exactly what I felt about truth. No one was satisfied."
No matter how you how live, even, or perhaps especially if its honest, you will never be able to impress everybody.
4. "When I discover who I am, I'll be free."
True liberation is not achieved by the size of our bank account, the car we own, and how we are regarded by our peers. It comes from knowing who we are. That's it. Always has been, always will be.
5. "I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for once having been ashamed.
Part of who we are is derived from where we come from, and from where we all come and then go home to, is family. Love it, or hate it, we don't get to chose our family, but we get to chose how it influences what we do, and what we become.
Though we are nowhere as close to discovering who we are as people as those that lived in Ralph Ellison's time, his words remain. To usher us along, even as we seek to usher in a new honor, love, and courage in colors yet unseen, but still very much remain an act of courage, honor, and love seen many times even as we are seen in them.