Where would we be today without human rights? In most parts of the world if you were a woman born 100 years ago, your political voice would go unheard; you would not have the right to vote or in many cases to own property. If you were a child, you’d most likely have a job working in difficult conditions. Most likely fitting in spaces that are too small for adults. The world is not currently perfect, there are still child laborers, unequal rights between men and women, racial disparity and so on. That being said, we believe humanity is changing for the better, so we’ve decided come up with a list of ten social activists to commemorate their achievements and share the good that they’ve spread throughout the world.
10. Rosa Parks – February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005
The United States’ Congress called Rosa Parks the ‘first lady of civil rights’. Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus in a time when Black Americans were made to sit in the back. While she was not the first to disobey the bus seating “rule”, in violating these segregation laws, by fighting the charges in court, she set a precedent for the growing civil rights movement in the United States. She became a symbol to all those in hope of greater equality throughout the country. An estimated 50,000 people payed their respects when she passed at the age of 93.
9. Nelson Mandela – July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013
Would you spend 27 years in prison for the freedom of your people? Nelson Mandela did just that, finally taking down the apartheid system of South Africa, where Black South Africans had inferior rights to White South Africans. After his vicious battle and imprisonment, Nelson Mandela emerged as a leader of Africa, and of civil rights all across the world. Despite the aggression he was subject to in his life, he said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
8. Basquiat – December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988
While Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, our next member of the list only lived to the age of 27. Not all forms of protest involve being arrested or shaking up the establishment. Sometimes it’s through artistic analyses and statements. Jean-Michel Basquiat was a prodigious painter who eventually made friends with the likes of Andy Warhol. His artwork is characterized by a complex, symbolic narrative of social issues such as race and class inequality. Sadly, he lost the inner battle and overdosed on heroin.
7. Harriet Tubman – circa 1822 – March 10, 1913
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery, escaped, and would go on to be part of one of the largest operations to dismantle and undermine the institution of slavery in the American south. Nicknamed “Moses” because she “never lost a passenger”, Harriet Tubman successfully lead many Black American slaves to their freedom on the secret tracks of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses operated by people who wished to abolish slavery. In her later years, Tubman was also a women’s suffrage activist, further cementing her role as one of the great humanitarians.
6. Gil Scott Heron – April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011
Considered by some to be the Godfather of hip-hop, Gil Scott-Heron’s lyrics would conjure social issues in his cool, jazzy spoken-word poetry. His sophisticated lyrics and speech-like delivery over instrumentals would have a big impact on the music industry, influencing the style and messages of hip-hop. At a time when a lot of rebel music was angry, his lyrics were relaxed and satirical. And while many artists have cited him as an influence on modern rap, he preferred to call himself a “bluesologist”.
5. Joan Baez – January 9, 1941
Joan Baez started her music career with the likes of Bob Dylan, singing protest songs about the state of the country. She has been performing for 55 years in the name of the environment, LGBT rights, racial rights, peace etc… you name it, she has stood up for it and sung about it.
4. Susan B. Anthony – February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906
Can you imagine being arrested for trying to vote? Susan B. Anthony played a pivotal role in the history of women’s rights. After being arrested for casting a vote, and after refusing to pay the fine, she took the issue of women’s suffrage across the country. She convinced people that it was time for women’s voices to be heard. It was not easy, her early years were fraught with ridicule, and it was only later in life that she began to receive her deserved accolades. She is a shining example of doing the right thing in the face of adversity
3. Harvey Milk – May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978
Though politics and gay activism were not initially on his mind, as the times changed in the 60s, Harvey Milk began to understand the importance in fighting for the respect of the LGBT community. Being the first openly gay politician was no-doubt an influential move in and of itself. He would use his influence to pass laws allowing more rights for gay people, setting the precedent for people’s right of sexuality today.
2. Malcolm X – May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965
There is no more controversial figure on this list than Malcolm X. One of the most prominent civil rights activists of all time, Malcolm Little, his birth name, had a directionless start. He was gambling, pimping, prostituting himself, and generally leading an empty life until a stint in prison opened his eyes to the power of words. He became a voracious reader, converted to Islam and began to preach and protest against the racism of white America. His aggressive, even violent stances towards progress have made him a figure of contention, seemingly being a love-him or hate-him type of character. Regardless, he was a compelling speaker and his defiance cost him his life as he was shot to death.
1. Martin Luther King Jr – January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968
Considered the alternative to Malcolm X, and perhaps the most famous activist on our list, or at least the most quoted. Everybody knows Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He had a rough childhood due to the racial tensions in the Southern United States, and due to the intensity of his father, whose torch he would later bear. When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, King rose to her defence and gained national prominence in helping eliminate bus segregation laws. He would go on to march on Washington and peacefully protest the treatment of the Black community in America. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
These great men and women’s legacies live on through the daily comforts and freedoms we’re afforded today. We should take care and not squander what these people stood for. Appreciate their importance by learning to help and hold each other up in times of need instead of submitting to fear and ignorance. If you think about it, no matter what happens, we’re all in this together.