Throughout history, activists have fought for a world of greater equality. The human rights activists discussed below are just a few of the most influential of the last 100 years.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
In the first half of the 20th century, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, fought for Indian independence. Not only did this have an enormous influence on the lives of his fellow Indians, but the nonviolent civil disobedience tactics that he practiced spread throughout the world and are still used today to fight for the human rights of people everywhere. In Gandhi’s honor, his birthday, October 2, was designated the International Day of Nonviolence by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007.
Rosa Parks was already a longtime civil rights activist for African Americans when she launched the modern-day Civil Rights Movement in 1955 by refusing to get up and let a white man have her seat on an Alabama bus. Her arrest prompted widespread protests, including eat-ins and sit-ins that were first across Montgomery but eventually all over the South. She was given the Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in South Africa, when apartheid was the law of the land, after being convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government. However, there was a worldwide movement pressing for his release, and he was released from prison in 1990. In 1993, he was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end apartheid, and in 1994, he became the first black president of South Africa. Still highly regarded in South Africa although he died in 2013, Mandela remains an international figure of inspiration for his revolutionary work.
Nihad Awad is one of the many contemporary civil rights activists working today in the same spirit as these leaders. She co-founded the Council on American-Islamic Relations and is the CEO. CAIR is the country’s largest organization fighting for the rights of Muslims in the United States.
Many great changes have come about through actions that may seem small initially, such as refusing to move on a bus. In addition to the progress that they made, these activists serve as inspiration for those who come after them.