A selection of people who have been prominent activists in the field of civil rights, peace, women’s rights, animal rights and other political causes.
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) Douglass was a former slave who became committed to working for the emancipation of all slaves and ending the injustice of slavery and racism in America. He gave many stirring speeches criticising injustice and promoting the idea of a nation where all people were treated equally regardless of race, sex or religion.
Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913) African American activist who campaigned against slavery. Tubman was born into slavery but escaped and dedicated the rest of her life to overcoming the practice. She was active in the underground movement which sought to help free others currently enslaved. During the civil war, she served as a Union spy. After the civil war, she also spoke for women’s suffrage.
Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1948) American author, scientist, ecologist, and environmentalist. Leopold was a pioneer in developing environmental ethics, supporting movements to protect the environment and areas of wilderness. In 1935 he helped found the Wilderness Society dedicated to protecting the nation’s areas of natural wilderness.
Rosa Parks (1913-2005) – Civil Rights activist. Parks started the Montgomery bus boycott (1955) through her refusal to give up her seat to a white person. She became a prominent spokesperson and figurehead for the American civil rights movement.
Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) Anti-apartheid leader. Mandela was a prominent activist who came to be the principal leader of the ANC. Mandela spent over twenty years in jail for his opposition to the racist apartheid system which excluded blacks from many areas of society. He was elected the first President of democratic South Africa in 1994.
Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) Non-violent civil rights leader. Martin Luther King was the pre-eminent leader of the American civil rights movement. He led boycotts and marches to highlight the issue of segregation and racial discrimination. His powerful oratory and dignified principles helped to shift popular American public opinion to support greater civil rights.
Joan Baez (1941 – ) American folk singer, songwriter, musician and social activist. Baez met Martin Luther King in 1956 and became a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. In 1963, her performance of ‘We Shall Overcome’ was a memorable moment in the civil rights struggle. Baez was also active in opposing the Vietnam War, publically endorsing the refusal to pay taxes to support the war. She spent a month in jail for blocking an army recruitment centre. Baez was also influential in setting up the USA chapter of Amnesty International and has been active in campaigning for human rights across the world.
Angela Davis (1944 – ) Academic, political scholar and social activist. Davis was a prominent figure in the black liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. She is also an advocate for women’s rights and the campaign against the ‘industrial-prison’ complex. She was a member of the US Communist party and stood on a vice-President ticket in 1980.
Aruna Roy (1946 – ) Indian political and social activist. She is the founder of the MKSS (“Workers and Peasants Strength Union”) which seeks to promote the interests of the poorest in society and hold local officials to account. The movement is a grassroots campaign of direct action. She is also the leader of the National Right to Information movement, which helped pass the Right to Information Act of 2005.
Gloria Steinem (1934 – ) An American feminist, journalist, and social activist. Working as a journalist, she became a prominent leader of the US feminist movement of the 1970s, after publishing an article ‘After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,’ She was prominent in campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment passed in 1972. She was also a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and Gulf wars of 1991 and 2003.
Steve Biko (1946 – 1977) Biko was a prominent South-African anti-apartheid activist. He was a founder of the Black Consciousness Movement – which sought to empower black people living under apartheid and poverty in South Africa. His influence caused the South African government to ban him speaking. He was arrested in 1977 and died following a brutal interrogation.
Al Sharpton (1954 – ) A prominent leader of African Americans from the 1980s. Sharpton has been a strong advocate of African American rights and has been an influential figure in race relations. He has led many marches and civil protests in response to incidents of racial violence.
Rigoberto Menchu (1959 – ) Menchu is an activist for the rights of indigenous Guatemalans. She was active during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996) and after. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. She also serves as an UNESCO goodwill ambassador. She also formed the Nobel Women’s Initiative with other Nobel winners, such as Shirin Ebadi and Betty Williams.
Malala Yousafzai – (1997- ) Pakistani schoolgirl who campaigns for the right of children to have access to education and basic human liberties. She survived being shot in the head by the Taliban and has become a global advocate for human rights, women’s rights and the right to education. She has sought to emphasize the peaceful nature of Islam and the respect Islam has for education.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous Activists”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net, 30th April 2015
Inspirational people – People who made a difference in a positive way and left the world a better place. Includes Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa and Emil Zatopek.
Peace Activists – People who actively opposed war, promoted peace and campaigned for nuclear disarmament. Includes Joan Baez, Noam Chomsky, Peace Pilgrim, Bertrand Russell and Leymah Gbowee.
People who fought for human/civil rights – People who campaigned for equality, civil rights and civil justice. Includes Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
Women’s Rights Activists – Women who championed the cause of women’s rights. Including Mary Wollstonecraft, Emily Pankhurst, Susan B.Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Animal rights activists – Brigitte Bardot, Linda McCartney, Peter Singer and Jeremy Bentham.