Best known for his work to end the apartheid state of affairs of his home country of South Africa, Nelson Mandela is a political icon of the last century that captivated the world. While a strong believer in the practices of Mahatma Gandhi, he shifted to a more direct form of struggle once he found that the pacifistic nature of his political hero did not produce results in a timely manner. For his political resistance and upsets he spent a total of twenty-seven years in prison, with many other minor arrest preceding this lengthy sentence. However his sixty-seven year- long political career and many brushes with the law proved fruitful for in 1994 the apartheid system of his country was removed and South Africa held the first multiracial elections in the country's history. Due to his hard work and popularity Mandela was also South Africa’s first elected president alongside being the first black president of the country.
Malala Yousafzai July 12, 1997 - Present
Brought to prominence by her work in advocating the rights for women and girls in her native country of Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai has started her work as early as 2008. The main target of her fight was the religiously motivated group known as the Taliban and their dated view of the world. Her work as an activist for women's rights and her constant mention of the Taliban brought her to the attention of the world. This popularity brought the wrath of the ad for mentioned group. The majority of her activism took place online where she spoke about her experiences and her desired outcome for girls and women in an anonymous blog, until 2009 when she was discovered and asked to give speeches. In recognition of her service for the rights of women and girls she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2014, she is currently the youngest person to ever hold the award.
Walter F. White July 1, 1883 - March 21, 1955
A leader of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Walter Francis White is best known for his nearly 25 years of service to the organization and working with President Truman at the end of the World War II to desegregate the armed forces, along with more civilian based segregation. He started his career with the NAACP as an investigator in 1918 at the invitation of the then leader James W. Johnson. In the capacity of an investigator, White went to the Southern states to report on lynchings and other atrocities that occurred to people of color. As a person of mixed heritage, White was able to achieve his objectives with little harassment to his own being. In 1929, White took over as head of the NAACP after Johnson. As head of the organization he worked closely with varying levels of the United States government in order to make change. White also built up the NAACP’s ability to fight cases through funding and member recruiting, which allowed him to aid in the case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) taking place during his last full year of service to the NAACP.
A legal clerk that was instrumental in building the 1993 Pacific Gas Electric Company litigation. Brockovich being an environmentalist is what led her to build a case against the Pacific Gas Electric Company, which before 1993 had been allowed to improperly dispose of waste and other practicals that proved less than beneficial to the environment of California. Her work on this case gave her national fame and led to the creation of “Challenge America with Erin Brockovich” on the ABC network. She, also was awarded two honorary doctorates from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles and Lewis and Clark Law School, Oregon. The former granted her a doctorate in Humane Letters and the later in Law. She is currently the president of Brockovich Research and Counseling.
Marian Wright Edelman June 6, 1939 to Present
Marian Wright Edelman is the founder and current president emerita of the Child Defense Fund (CDF). All her life she worked for the advancement of lower class people by improving the chance of their children. It goes without saying that most of her earlier work was based on children of color. Her earlier legal career started with the NAACP in 1968 and from there she pushed for the betterment of children and made history by being the first black woman to be admitted into the Mississippi Bar after receiving her degree from Yale Law School. Edelman has been recognized by many government bodies for her work and has been awarded for her efforts. In 2000, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She continues to improve the lives of children in the United States.
Charles Perkins June 16, 1936 to October 18, 2000
An aboriginal from Australia, Perkins lived through a time where people of the aboriginal lineage could not move around the country freely. This blatant discrimination left Perkins with a bitter resolve and used his fame as a football player (soccer) to achieve civil rights for aboriginals and was a leading member of what was called the “Freedom Ride” that lead to amendments to the Australian constitution and placed aboriginals on the census as well. Perkins continues to be well renowned for his work even years after his death.
Turkish politician Leyla Zana fought feverishly for Kurdish rights in her country of Turkey, which eventually landed her in prison in 1994. She was the first Kurdish woman to hold a seat in Turkey’s parliament, and caused a scandal right off the bat by speaking her native language of Kurdish on the parliament floor. The Kurdish language was legalized in 1991, the year she was sworn in, but it was not permitted in “public spaces.” However, bigger issues arose when she joined the Democracy Party in 1994, a party with Kurdish sympathies. Immediately, she and many of top members of the party were arrested and charged with treason. Additionally, Zana was accused of being a member of the Kurdish Workers Party (PPK), a party that was seen as a threat by the Turkish government. During her time in prison she was awarded a number of awards by various European governments, including the Rafto Prize (1994), the Sakharov Prize (1995), and the Bruno Kreisky Award (1995). She was a topic of contention between the European Union (EU) and Turkey when the latter was trying to gain membership in the EU in 1995. In prison Zana wrote Writings From Prison (Human Rights & Democracy), which paints the violations that her country was making. In 2004 she was released and she continued her fight in parliament. Since then she has been in and out of prison for her views on the rights of the Kurdish people. These include dates as recent as 2016, and just last year (2018) she was removed from parliament all together for missing a number of meetings, though she was in prison for the most of it. This has not prevented Zana from continuing her fight for the rights of her people.
Maziar Bahari May 25, 1967 to Present
An Iranian-Canadian journalist, film maker, and human rights activist, Maziar Bahari came into prominence with his first film The Voyage of the Saint Louis (1995) that looked at the issues of how the West rejected and ignored the plight of the 900 plus Jewish passengers trying to escape the coming tragedy of the Third Rich in 1939. Bahari was inspired to make this film because of what he had learned in school that the Jewish people were dispersed in North America up to the 1950’s. Before he took religious studies he had believed that the Americans and Canadians had always been on the side of humanitarian efforts during the Holocaust. By making this film Bahari was the first Muslim to make a film on the Holocaust, something that would eventually “haunt” him during his imprisonment in Iran. He was arrested in 2009 for being a western journalist, the state claiming that all western journalist were spies, something he confessed to on live TV. The confession was dismissed by his family and his colleagues because the confession was made under duress. He was released by the state, in order for him to spy on forces working against it in the autumn of 2009. However, Bahari never did so and returned to London afterwards, where the majority of his work began to focus on imprisoned journalists.
Anna Jameson May 19, 1794 to March 17, 1860
Anna Jameson was an author and woman’s rights activist from England. She is most famous for her travel memoirs that told of her experiences in a romantic fashion. She was an eloquent writer and was able to immerse herself with the culture that she had traveled too. Much of the world that she had seen was due to the fact of her early career as a governess, her position as a caretaker for children allowed her to see the world more freely. With that in mind she used her knowledge and experiences to give lectures on the need to give women an equal opportunity in both education and the workplace.