The Staple Singers signed with the Memphis Soul label Stax Records in 1968, where they found success after languishing at Epic. "Respect Yourself" was written by the Stax songwriter Mack Rice and one of their artists, Luther Ingram, who is best known for his song "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right
." They wrote the song after a discussion where Ingram said to Rice, "Black folk need to respect themselves." Rice decided to turn the idea into a song, and quickly cut a demo. He didn't think it was right for The Staple Singers, but Stax vice-president Al Bell did, stating, "I heard that lyric and I heard that melody and I said, 'that's it. This is the song I've been waiting on.'"