Famous 20th Century Activists

Find out more about the greatest 20th Century Activists, including Hillary Clinton, Shailene Woodley, Muhammad Ali, Angelina Jolie and Malala Yousafzai.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite 20th Century Activists

 1 
Martin Luther King Jr.
(African-American Civil Rights Movement Leader Who Used Civil Disobedience to Combat Racism)

Martin Luther King Jr.
15
Birthdate: January 15, 1929
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Died: April 4, 1968

A leader in the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. A man of Christian faith who was inspired by Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent activism, he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting racial inequality.  

 2 
Malcolm X
(Major Figure of American Civil Rights Movement)

Malcolm X
26
Birthdate: May 19, 1925
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska, United States
Died: February 21, 1965

An African-American leader of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X was a vocal spokesman of the Nation of Islam and called upon the blacks to protect themselves from the white, even if it meant adopting violence. His radical views and preaching later evolved and he accepted the possibility of peaceful resolution of racial issues in America.

 3 
Harriet Tubman
(Activist and Abolitionist Known for Her Efforts in Rescuing Slaves and Abolition of Slavery)

Harriet Tubman
17
Birthdate: May 19, 1925, 1822
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Dorchester County, Maryland, United States
Died: March 10, 1913

Born to parents who were bonded slaves, Harriet Tubman life was a difficult one from the very beginning. Yet with her remarkable courage and determination, she not only escaped slavery herself, but also led other enslaved people to freedom. The prominent political activist and abolitionist was also the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the American Civil War.

 4 
Rosa Parks
(The First Lady of Civil Rights)

Rosa Parks
23
Birthdate: February 4, 1913
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Tuskegee, Alabama, United States
Died: October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks, “the first lady of civil rights,” was a pioneer in the American revolution against color segregation and racism. Her refusal to leave her bus seat to a white passenger gave rise to the iconic Montgomery Bus Boycott, which also led her to work with Martin Luther King Jr.

 5 
Susan B. Anthony
(Women’s Rights Activist)

Susan B. Anthony
12
Birthdate: February 15, 1820
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Adams, Massachusetts, United States
Died: March 13, 1906

Susan B. Anthony's vital role in the women's suffrage movement changed the course of history. She led one of the two national suffrage organizations, which later became the National American Woman Suffrage Association, with Susan as its leading force. She also played an instrumental role in publishing The Revolution, a women's rights newspaper.

 6 
Desmond Tutu
(First Black African Archbishop of Cape Town & Nobel Peace Prize Winner)

Desmond Tutu
4
Birthdate: October 7, 1931
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Klerksdorp, South Africa
Died: December 26, 2021
Desmond Tutu is known for his anti-Apartheid activism in South Africa. The first black Archbishop of Cape Town, he has also been the Bishop of Johannesburg. His efforts to eradicate AIDS, poverty, anti-LGBT sentiments, and human rights violations earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 7 
Steve Irwin
(Television Celebrity & Wildlife Conservationist Who Died After Getting Stung by a Stingray Barb)

Steve Irwin
15
Birthdate: February 22, 1962
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Victoria, Australia
Died: September 4, 2006

Australian Steve Irwin was a world famous, high-spirited, lively host of The Crocodile Hunter television series. A conservationist, he was also part of other shows and documentaries on wildlife and environment. He was known for close encounters with some of the most dangerous and endangered animals in various jungles. He died after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

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 8 
Helen Keller
(Author, First Deafblind Person to Earn a B.A. Degree)

Helen Keller
6
Birthdate: June 27, 1880
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Tuscumbia, Alabama, United States
Died: June 1, 1968

A prolific author, having written 12 published books and several articles, Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life, made Keller famous and was adapted for film and stage. She was also an activist and campaigned for women's suffrage, labour rights, socialism and other such causes.

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 9 
Emmeline Pankhurst
(Leader of the British Suffragette Movement)

Emmeline Pankhurst
6
Birthdate: July 15, 1858
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Moss Side, Manchester, England
Died: June 14, 1928
Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist best remembered for helping women earn the right to vote in elections by organizing the UK suffragette movement. For playing a major role in achieving women's suffrage in the UK, Pankhurst was named in Time magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century list in 1999.

 10 
Noam Chomsky
(The Father of Modern Linguistics)

Noam Chomsky
6
Birthdate: December 7, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Regarded by many as the father of modern linguistics, Noam Chomsky has authored over 100 books on varied topics, such as politics, linguistics, and war. A multi-talented personality, Noam Chomsky is considered a popular figure in analytic philosophy. Apart from influencing a wide array of academic fields, he has also contributed to the development of cognitivism.

 11 
Julian Assange
(Computer programmer)

Julian Assange
5
Birthdate: July 3, 1971
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Townsville, Australia

Julian Assange made headlines all over the world in 2010 when WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization founded by him, gained international attention after publishing leaks, such as the Afghanistan war logs and Iraq war logs. After dodging arrest for several years, he was finally arrested in 2019 and is currently imprisoned in HM Prison Belmarsh.

 12 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
4
Birthdate: October 13, 1989
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bronx, New York, United States

 13 
Ashley Judd
(Actress, Political activist)

Ashley Judd
4
Birthdate: April 19, 1968
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Granada Hills, Los Angeles, California, United States

Ashley Judd is a popular American actress who is vocal about topics, such as sexual assault. As a three-time rape survivor—as claimed by her—Ashley serves as an inspiration to rape survivors around the world. Known for her humanitarian work, Ashley has worked on gender equality for over a decade. She is also famous for her political activities.

 14 
Sam Cooke
(Singer-songwriter)

Sam Cooke
5
Birthdate: January 22, 1931
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Clarksdale, Mississippi, United States
Died: December 11, 1964
The King of Soul Sam Cooke is best remembered for his hits A Change is Gonna Come, You Send Me, and Wonderful World. He began singing gospel as a child and later joined The Soul Stirrers. He was shot and killed by a motel manager in Los Angeles. 

 15 
Muhammad Ali
(Greatest Heavyweight Boxer of All Time)

Muhammad Ali
38
Birthdate: January 17, 1942
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Died: June 3, 2016

Widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali was a major figure of the 20th century. He was an inspirational figure for African-Americans during the civil rights movement. Because of his opposition to Vietnam War and his refusal to be drafted into military, Muhammad Ali became an icon for the larger counterculture generation.

 16 
Laverne Cox
(First Transgender Person To Appear on Cover of 'Time' Magazine)

Laverne Cox
16
Birthdate: May 29, 1972
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Mobile, Alabama, United States

 17 
Angelina Jolie
(Hollywood's Highest-Paid Actress In Her Hey Days)

Angelina Jolie
18
Birthdate: June 4, 1975
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

A fashion icon, acclaimed actress, influential humanitarian and Special Envoy for the UNHCR, Angelina Jolie is a highly noted celebrity in Hollywood. She has been hailed for her philanthropic efforts around the globe and praised for her power packed performances. Mother of six, of whom three are adopted, Angelina Jolie is a role model for the women of this generation.

 18 
Forest Whitaker
(Best Known for His Role in 'The Last King of Scotland')

Forest Whitaker
5
Birthdate: July 15, 1961
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Longview, Texas, United States
Forest Whitaker is best known for his Academy Award-winning performance as real-life dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Fans also loved him in Rogue One and Ghost Dog. He is an advocate of the UN’s Global Goals and supports peace-building initiatives and programs that help war victims.

 19 
Geena Davis
(Actress)

Geena Davis
5
Birthdate: January 21, 1956
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Wareham, Massachusetts, United States

An Academy Award-winning actress, Geena Davis is also known for her work to fight gender bias, for which she was presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. An ardent archer, who vied for a semifinals spot in the U.S. Olympic archery team for the 2000 Summer Olympics, Geena supports the Women's Sports Foundation among other initiatives that support women.

 20 
Leah Remini
(Actress)

Leah Remini
5
Birthdate: September 16, 1970
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Leah Remini is best known as Carrie Heffernan from The King of Queens and Vanessa from Kevin Can Wait. She also appeared in Dancing with the Stars. She was raised a Scientologist, but turned against the faith later, releasing an explanatory memoir and an Emmy-winning documentary series on the same.

 21 
Kailash Satyarthi
(Child Rights Activist)

Kailash Satyarthi
10
Birthdate: January 11, 1954
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Vidisha, India

Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian social reformer who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Satyarthi is best known for his campaign against child labor in India. Kailash Satyarthi is credited with founding several social activist organizations like Global March Against Child Labour, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, and Global Campaign for Education.

 22 
Oskar Schindler
(Industrialist)

Oskar Schindler
6
Birthdate: April 28, 1908
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Svitavy, Czechia
Died: October 9, 1974

Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who displayed extraordinary dedication and courage to save the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler's act is viewed by many as the kind of act that restores faith in humanity.  His inspirational and heart-warming story was adapted into an Oscar-winning film titled Schindler's List.

 23 
Daryl Hannah
(Actress)

Daryl Hannah
5
Birthdate: December 3, 1960
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Daryl Hannah is best known for her Saturn Award-winning performances as Madison in Splash and Elle Driver in the Kill Bill movies. In 2017, she claimed she had been sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein in the past. Hannah is a vegan and has struggled with autism in childhood.

 24 
Fran Drescher
(Actress, Comedian)

Fran Drescher
6
Birthdate: October 30, 1957
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Flushing, New York, United States

Fran Drescher is an American actress and comedian. Characterized by her thick New York accent and nasal voice, Fran Drescher serves as an inspiration to many cancer patients as she successfully fought off the disease after suffering from uterine cancer. She is also an outspoken LGBT rights activist and healthcare advocate.

 25 
Erin Brockovich
(Environmental Activist)

Erin Brockovich
6
Birthdate: June 22, 1960
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Lawrence, Kansas

Legal consultant, environmental activist, and consumer activist Erin Brockovich is known for suing California-based Pacific Gas & Electric Company, alleging them of contamination of water with hexavelent chromium, in 1993. Her story inspired the Julia Roberts-starrer 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. She has written two books and hosted TV shows, too.

 26 
James Baldwin
(Author Best Known for His Novel 'Go Tell It on the Mountain')

James Baldwin
4
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Harlem, New York, United States
Died: December 1, 1987

Amongst the greatest writers of the 20th century and a leading literary voice in the civil rights movement, James Baldwin extensively explored issues like race, sexuality and humanity in his work. His best known work include his debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain and his books of essays Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name.

 27 
Common
(Rapper)

Common
8
Birthdate: March 13, 1972
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: South Side, Chicago, Illinois, United States

 28 
Pauley Perrette
(Television Actress, Activist, Singer)

Pauley Perrette
21
Birthdate: March 27, 1969
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Pauley Perrette is a former actress, singer, and writer. Perrette is best known for portraying Abby Sciuto from 2003 to 2018 on the popular police procedural TV series NCIS. Also an activist, Pauley Perrette supports several animal rescue organizations, LGBT rights organizations, and civil rights organizations. Over the years, she has been an ardent supporter of the American Red Cross.

 29 
Manute Bol
(Basketball player)

Manute Bol
4
Birthdate: October 16, 1962
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Gogrial, Sudan
Died: June 19, 2010

Known for his 7’ 7” frame, Manute Bol made headlines as one of the tallest NBA players ever. Born in Sudan, he was initially a soccer player but quit it because of his height. He later moved to the US to represent basketball teams such as the Golden State Warriors.

 30 
Margaret Atwood
(Poet, Novelist, Literary Critic & Environmental Activist)

Margaret Atwood
8
Birthdate: November 18, 1939
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Ottawa, Canada

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet and novelist. Her works encompass themes, such as religion and myth, climate change, and gender and identity. An award-winning writer, many of Atwood's works have been made into films and television series; her work, The Handmaid's Tale, has had several adaptations. Perhaps, Margaret Atwood's most important contribution is her invention of the LongPen device.

 31 

Marion Cotillard
6
Birthdate: September 30, 1975
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Paris, France
Marion Cotillard delivered an Academy Award-winning performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, becoming the first to win the award for a French-language film. She was appreciated for her iconic role of Joan of Arc on stage. She has promoted Lady Dior bags and Chanel No. 5 fragrance.

 32 

Johnnie Cochran
7
Birthdate: October 2, 1937
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Shreveport, Louisiana, United States
Died: March 29, 2005
Johnnie Cochran was an American civil activist and lawyer. Cochran played an important role in the acquittal of former football player O. J. Simpson in connection with the murder of the latter's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. Cochran had also represented other celebrities like Michael Jackson, Sean Combs, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Riddick Bowe, and Jim Brown to name a few.

 33 

Woody Harrelson
1
Birthdate: July 23, 1961
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Midland, Texas, United States

Actor Woody Harrelson has been active in the entertainment world for over 40 years now. The son of a convicted hit-man, he had a difficult childhood and grew up in poverty. However, he was determined to build a good life for himself and earned a BFA in theater before venturing into acting. He is a vegan and an environmental activist.

 34 
Jessica Lange
(Actress & Producer)

Jessica Lange
7
Birthdate: April 20, 1949
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cloquet, Minnesota, United States

Jessica Lange is a prominent actress with over four decades of experience in Hollywood. She is one of the few female performers to achieve the “Triple Crown of Acting,” having won an Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award. She has appeared in many critically acclaimed films. Also a photographer, she has published four books.

 35 
Fred Hampton
(Activist)

Fred Hampton
9
Birthdate: August 30, 1948
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Summit, Illinois, United States
Died: December 4, 1969

Fred Hampton was considered an activist and a revolutionary socialist working for social change. He was the deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party. He founded the Rainbow Coalition, aiming to help the Chicago street gangs to end infighting. The FBI considered him as a major threat and he was shot and killed in December 1969 during a raid.

 36 
Danny Glover
(Known for His Lead Role as Roger Murtaugh in the 'Lethal Weapon' Film Series)

Danny Glover
5
Birthdate: July 22, 1946
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States

Danny Glover is an American actor whose career has spanned more than four decades. Apart from being an actor, Danny Glover has had a major impact as an activist; he has made his presence felt as an activist in countries like Brazil, Iraq, Venezuela, Israel, and many African countries.

 37 
Linda McCartney
(Photographer)

Linda McCartney
6
Birthdate: September 4, 1941
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Scarsdale, New York, United States
Died: April 17, 1998
Linda McCartney, the first wife of Paul McCartney, formed the band Wings with her husband, after the Beatles disbanded. An animal rights activist, she wrote several vegetarian cookbooks, apart from launching Linda McCartney Foods. She was also a skilled photographer and published a photo book. She died of breast cancer.  

 38 
Angela Davis
(Political Activist)

Angela Davis
17
Birthdate: January 26, 1944
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Birmingham

Activist, philosopher, academic and author, Angela Davis is a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). She has worked in the areas of feminism, class, race and the US prison system. She has also received criticism for supporting the erstwhile Soviet Union and has been accused of supporting political violence.

 39 
B. R. Ambedkar
(One of the Architects of the Indian Constitution)

B. R. Ambedkar
4
Birthdate: April 14, 1891
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Madhya Pradesh, India
Died: December 6, 1956

India's first Minister of Law and Justice, B. R. Ambedkar inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement. He also fought against social discrimination prevalent in India at that time. Widely regarded as the chief architect of the Constitution of India, Ambedkar was posthumously honored with India's highest civilian award - The Bharat Ratna.

 40 
Brigitte Bardot
(Actress, Activist)

Brigitte Bardot
6
Birthdate: September 28, 1934
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Paris, France

Brigitte Bardot is a French former singer and actress. One of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and 1960s, Bardot remains a major pop culture icon despite quitting the entertainment industry in 1973. Bardot is credited with popularizing the bikini. She also popularized the town of Armação dos Búzios and the city of St. Tropez in Brazil.

 41 
Cesar Chavez
(Labour leader & Civil Rights Activist)

Cesar Chavez
6
Birthdate: March 31, 1927
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Yuma, Arizona, United States
Died: April 23, 1993
Cesar Chavez became a Latin American civil rights icon owing to his efforts to secure rights for farmworkers. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers union. He was inspired by Gandhian non-violent protests and organized the Delano grape strike, among other protests.

 42 

Maya Angelou
4
Birthdate: April 4, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: May 28, 2014
Poet, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was a champion for black feminism and is best remembered for her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and over 50 honorary degrees was also a child sex abuse survivor.

 43 
Margot Kidder
(Actress)

Margot Kidder
5
Birthdate: October 17, 1948
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Yellowknife, Canada
Died: May 13, 2018

Margot Kidder is best remembered for her roles as Lois Lane in the Superman movie franchise and as Kathy Lutz in The Amityville Horror. Fans also loved her in the hit Broadway play The Vagina Monologues. She was a vocal anti-war and pro-environment activist. She eventually died by suicide.

 44 
Eartha Kitt
(Singer with a Distinctive Voice Known for her Hits "Let's Do It", and "C'est si bon")

Eartha Kitt
4
Birthdate: January 17, 1927
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: North, South Carolina, United States
Died: December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt was an American actress, comedian, dancer, and singer-songwriter. Renowned for her distinctive singing style, Kitt recorded several chartbusting songs during the 1950s. Also a well-known activist, Eartha Kitt established a non-profit organization called the Kittsville Youth Foundation, which helped underprivileged youths in Los Angeles. She was also an ardent advocate for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

 45 
George Takei
(Actor, Activist)

George Takei
6
Birthdate: April 20, 1937
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
George Takei is best known as Hikaru Sulu from the series Star Trek and later reprised the role in several Star Trek films. He initially did voice work for English-dubbed Japanese movies. A vocal LGBT rights activist, he himself is gay. His Facebook page has a huge fan base.

 46 
Vanessa Redgrave
(Is an English Actress, Activist)

Vanessa Redgrave
4
Birthdate: January 30, 1937
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: London, England, United Kingdom

 47 

Bradley Whitford
4
Birthdate: October 10, 1959
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Best known as Josh Lyman from The West Wing, Bradley Whitford is a Juilliard-trained and Primetime Emmy-winning actor. Also known for his roles in series such as The Mentalist and movies such as Billy Madison, he also launched the charity Clothes off Our Back, which mostly donates to children’s non-profits.

 48 
Ali MacGraw
(Actress)

Ali MacGraw
4
Birthdate: April 1, 1939
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Pound Ridge, New York, United States

A veteran actress with a career spanning over half a century, Ali MacGraw first came to prominence in the 1970s after acting in many popular action and romantic films. She was also active on the stage and in TV shows. Besides acting, she has been an animal rights advocate throughout her life.

 49 
Josephine Baker
(Entertainer)

Josephine Baker
5
Birthdate: June 3, 1906
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: April 12, 1975
Nicknamed Black Pearl and Creole Goddess, Josephine Baker was the first Black woman to appear in a motion picture. She was a revue dancer, famous for her signature banana costume. A civil rights activist, she helped the French military during World War II. She adopted 12 children of different ethnicities.

 50 
Ruby Bridges
(Philanthropist)

Ruby Bridges
8
Birthdate: September 8, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Tylertown
American civil rights activist Ruby Bridges became the first African-American child to attend an all-white educational institute when she joined the Louisiana-based William Frantz Elementary School in November 1960. She was the subject of Norman Rockwell’s painting The Problem We All Live With and the TV movie Ruby Bridges.