Throughout time, the defense against attacks on human rights and what human rights even mean have been some of the most important issues humanity has faced. Certain individuals have sought to see their visions of a better society through by fighting for the rights of those whose rights were (and are) ignored or disrespected, but often their recognition is not found in the mainstream media. So I'm here to tell you about some heroes, either better known or hardly at all, to give true heroes the gratitude they deserve for their humanitarian work.
1. Robert F. Kennedy
JFK's brother is a better known human rights hero, but perhaps the specifics are not as well known. His work during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement alongside his brother and support of Martin Luther King Jr.'s peaceful protest against racial inequalities were profound, particularly for the Freedom Riders in 1961, where RFK stationed 400 federal marshals at the site of the Freedom Riders protests to protect those involved in the acts against counter-protesters. He pushed with urgency the importance of supporting the African American's that were fighting for desegregation and equal opportunity, as seen in 1963 when Lyndon B. Johnson relied on RFK's Justice Department to assist in the Civil Rights Act legislation following the death of JFK.
"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." -Robert F. Kennedy
(information from JFK Library)
2. Sir Roger Casement
I recently found out about Casement after a trip to a museum in Dublin, and was astounded by the work he did for human rights in the Congo and Peru. in 1903, this Irishman began his investigation against the slavery of people in the Congo for the sake of harvesting rubber. He wrote his Congo report that was published in 1904 to expose the terrible treatment of people in the Congo and this led to a change in the rule over the Congo four years later for better treatment of the people. The same thing happened in Peru, where he wrote another report in 1912 that eventually earned him knighthood for his work. He became militant in revolutions in Ireland against British rule, which led to its own set of troubles for Casement, but his impact in human rights campaigning is undeniably important.
"Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong; where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labors...then surely it is a braver, a saner and truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men." -Sir Roger Casement
(Information from Britannica.com)
3. Betty Makoni
Zimbabwean activist Makoni works tirelessly to support the protection of young girls against sexual assault and the empowerment of young women to rise above and do great things with their lives. She brings light to many abuse issues in her native Zimbabwe in regards to the sexual assault against young women and girls face. She developed the Girl Child Network (GCN) to help in the support of gaining justice for these young women and girls and giving them the support they need for later in life to make something of themselves in a nurturing and safe environment away from those abuses. She is an incredible woman with an incredible mission, and has led to the saving of over 7,000 girls from abuses through her organization.
"That there is a silent genocide of women and girls in the homes, communities and just everywhere is not a new story. That my great grandmother, grandmother, mother, mother-in-law, aunt, sister, cousin, niece, housemaid, co-worker, friend, neighbor and just about every female shares the same pain is not a new story. What is new in this story is how I stood up to say, "Never again." Never again will a girl or woman get raped, killed, drop out of school, be harmed by our culture or be sexually enslaved. That is as long as I know about it. Never Again--not to any woman or girl again is the new story." -Betty Makoni
4. Joan Baez
Some may know Joan Baes as a folk-hero, and that is certainly a deserving title, but many may not know her work in the 1970s in helping to establish the San Francisco branch of Amnesty International. She dedicated an entire year of her life for this, and among this, traveled to participate in anti-death penalty rallies (in Amnesty International's Campaign to End Torture) in Paris and New York, and took part in the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. Her list of contributions to the support of civil right campaigns is numerous and vital as inspiration to so many future activists searching for ways to better the planet for those struggling for equal human rights.
"Action is the antidote to despair." -Joan Baez
(Information from Amnesty International Human Rights Blog)
5. Victor Hugo
He is often remembered for his work Les Miserables and in general for being a famous author and poet in France, though it is less known that he was a passionate human rights activist. Even looking at his works will show you the themes of the despair of people in his time that he cared enough about to fight for change. He campaigned for universal suffrage, free education for all children, and even fought to abolish capital punishment in his time. Hugo was an outspoken proponent for civil rights that seemed to be far ahead of his time, and ought to be recognized for using his platform to speak out about the injustice that laid before him instead of ignoring it completely.
"To love another person is to see the face of God." -Victor Hugo
6. Emmeline Pankhurst
It was not too far in the past that women were granted the right to vote, as difficult as that can be to believe. Pankhurst was a frontrunner in the campaign for women's rights in the late 1800s in Britain, founding the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in support of the cause. She was arrested numerous times for her efforts while her and her supporters grew militant in their efforts, still going on hunger strikes while in prison to further push the cause in any way she could. She is a large reason why British women over 30 were granted the right to vote in 1918, and eventually women over 21 because of her incredibly dedicated efforts toward furthering equal rights.
"It is obvious to you that the struggle will be an unequal one, but I shall make it - I shall make it as long as I have an ounce of strength left in me, or any life left in me." -Emmeline Pankhurst
(Information from BBC History on Emmeline Pankhurst)
7. Harvey Milk
There's a fantastic movie starring Sean Penn as Milk, which chronicles the life of this incredible gay rights activist. Milk moved to San Francisco in the 1970s after coming out as an openly gay man and began work as a leading activist in the gay community. He formed the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club and pushed for a bill that was anti-discriminatory against all sexual orientations, which ended up being passed with only one vote against it. He briefly worked in public office and constantly battled against discriminatory bills and pushed for more acceptance toward the LGBTQ+ community. California recognizes his birthday, May 22nd, as Harvey Milk Day, to commemorate the work he's done for the community.
"Hope will never be silent." -Harvey Milk
(Information from HISTORY.com)
8. Johnnie Carr
Carr played a large role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s but also worked in activism far before then as well. In the 1930s she helped raise money for the nine African Americans in the Scottsboro Trials and was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During the bus boycotts within the Civil Rights Movement, she voiced her support for the boycotters and offered rides and food to those active in the event. She also was involved in a lawsuit over the desegregation of Montgomery Schools and after a court ruling her son became one of the first 13 African American children to attend a desegregated school. She worked alongside friends Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. during her lifetime and is a name that more should recognize as a face for the fight for equal civil rights.
"Go back to wherever you came from and put it to action." -Johnnie Carr
(Information from ourbiography.com on Johnnie Carr)
9. W.E.B. Du Bois
At the end of the 1800s, Du Bois studied how slavery still affected African Americans even after abolition, and taught Sociology at Tuskegee University until conflict between Booker T. Washington and him caused Du Bois to join the Niagara Movement that supported equal rights for African Americans in 1903. Du Bois was one of the founding members of the NAACP that played a major role in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. He even represented the organization at the first United Nations meeting. He supported progressive, left-wing organizations that supported the fight for equality amongst races.
"I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls, the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, uncursed by color; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love." -W.E.B. Du Bois
(Information from HISTORY.com on W.E.B. Du Bois)
10. Malala Yousafzai
One of the youngest activists on this list, Yousafzai, born in Pakistan, is a proponent for equal rights to education for girls after schools started to be shut down and women were banned from having active roles in society. She survived an assassination attempt at age 15 for her activism and was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in in 2014. On her sixteenth birthday in 2013 she gave a speech to 500 at the United Nations panel in New York. Today she attends Oxford University and opened a girls' school in Lebanon for Syrian Refugees and continues to fight for the right of girls to education around the world.
"When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful." -Malala Yousafzai
(Information from Britannica.com on Malala Yousafzai)