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.

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 1 Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr..
8
Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: January 15, 1929
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
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

Malcolm X.
22
Famous As: Activist
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 Helen Keller

Helen Keller.
4
Famous As: Author
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.

 4 James Baldwin

James Baldwin.
10
Famous As: Novelist
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.

 5 Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke.
4
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
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. 

 6 Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali.
36
Famous As: Boxer
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.

 7 Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich.
6
Famous As: Environmental Activist
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.

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 8 Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall.
4
Famous As: Former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
Birthdate: July 2, 1908
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: January 24, 1993

The first African-American member of the US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall was an associate justice from 1967 to 1991. Earlier as an attorney, he fought for the abolishment of racial segregation in American public schools. He was also a strong proponent of individual rights. A symbol of black icon, there are numerous memorials in America to honour his legacy.

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 9 Pauley Perrette

Pauley Perrette.
19
Famous As: Television Actress, Activist, Singer
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.

 10 Angela Davis

Angela Davis.
17
Famous As: Political Activist
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.

 11 Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson.
0
Famous As: Actor, Activist
Birthdate: July 23, 1961
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Midland

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.

 12 Evita Peron

Evita Peron.
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Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: May 7, 1919
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Los Toldos, Argentina
Died: July 26, 1952

 13 Linda McCartney

Linda McCartney.
4
Famous As: Photographer, Musician
Birthdate: September 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New York City, 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.  

 14 Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton.
7
Famous As: Activist
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.

 15 Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt.
9
Famous As: Singer
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.

 16 Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez.
6
Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: March 31, 1927
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Yuma
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.

 17 George Takei

George Takei.
4
Famous As: Actor, Activist
Birthdate: April 20, 1937
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California
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.

 18 Chaz Bono

Chaz Bono.
5
Famous As: Actor, LGBT Rights Activist
Birthdate: March 4, 1969
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Los Angeles

Born to famous entertainers, Sonny and Cher Bono, actor Chaz Bono made his first television appearance in his parents’ show. Later, he pursued a musical career with a band named Ceremony. A lesbian, he underwent a female-to-male gender transition and created a documentary Becoming Chaz about his experience. He has also authored books and featured in films and television projects.

 19 Zack de la Rocha

Zack de la Rocha.
9
Birthdate: January 12, 1970
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Long Beach

Rapper Zack de la Rocha, the vocalist for the rock band Rage Against the Machine, also formed the duo One Day as a Lion with drummer Jon Theodore. He supports vegetarianism and the Zapatista (EZLN) movement of Mexico. He also testified against the U.S.’s treatment of Abu-Jamal, at the U.N. 

 20 Abbie Hoffman

Abbie Hoffman.
22
Famous As: Anti-War Activist
Birthdate: November 30, 1936
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Worcester
Died: April 12, 1989

The co-founder of the Youth International Party, Abbie Hoffman was an American social and political activist. A popular exponent of the Flower Power movement, Abbie Hoffman played a major role in the events leading up to the violent confrontations with the cops during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He remains an iconic figure of the counterculture era.

 21 Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges.
8
Famous As: Philanthropist
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.

 22 Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker.
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Famous As: Entertainer, Actress, Singer
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.

 23 Geena Davis

Geena Davis.
4
Famous As: Actress, Producer, Model
Birthdate: January 21, 1956
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Wareham

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.

 24 Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes.
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Famous As: Poet, Novelist, Playwright, & Columnist
Birthdate: February 1, 1902
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Joplin, Missouri, United States
Died: May 22, 1967

Langston Hughes is best remembered as a prominent leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first to write jazz poetry. He also wrote plays and short stories. He was a columnist for The Chicago Defender and wrote the iconic poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

 25 Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova.
4
Famous As: Former Tennis Champion
Birthdate: October 18, 1956
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Prague, Czechoslovakia
Martina Navratilova is the world’s only tennis player to be no. 1 for more than 200 weeks in both singles and doubles. She is one of three women with a "Grand Slam Boxed Set.” She is openly lesbian and had earlier fled her country, Czechoslovakia, due to political issues.

 26 Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger.
4
Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: September 14, 1879
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Corning, New York, United States
Died: September 6, 1966

Margaret Sanger was an American writer and sex educator. She is credited with popularizing the term birth control. A birth control activist, Sanger established the first birth control clinic in America. She also set up organizations that later became the well-known non-profit organization Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She also played a key role in legalizing contraception in the US.

 27 Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre.
4
Famous As: Philosopher, Novelist
Birthdate: June 21, 1905
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 15, 1980

Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher, writer, literary critic, and political activist. One of the most important personalities in the philosophy of phenomenology and existentialism, Sartre played a crucial role in 20th-century French philosophy. His work continues to influence literary studies, post-colonial theory, sociology, and critical theory. He was honored with the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature.

 28 Bob Geldof

Bob Geldof.
4
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: October 5, 1951
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Dún Laoghaire
Irish singer Bob Geldof gained fame as part of the rock band Boomtown Rats, which delivered hits such as Rat Trap. He formed the charity supergroup Band Aid and organized concerts to eradicate poverty in Africa. He also appeared as Pink in the movie Pink Floyd – The Wall.

 29 Michael Bolton

Michael Bolton.
7
Famous As: Singer, Songwriter
Birthdate: February 26, 1953
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Michael Bolton is an American singer-songwriter who has sold over 75 million records so far. Apart from recording several top 10 albums on the Billboard charts, Bolton also has several prestigious awards under his belt, such as Grammy Awards. Also known for his charity work, Bolton set up the Michael Bolton Foundation in order to aid children and women.

 30 Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons.
4
Famous As: Founder of the hip-hop music label Def Jam
Birthdate: October 4, 1957
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Queens, New York, United States

Russell Simmons is a controversial American businessman who co-founded the hip-hop music label, 'Def Jam Recordings', and established the clothing line 'Phat Fashions'. He is noted for Harriet Tubman Sex Tape which generated a lot of heat in 2013. Simmons who calls himself a Christian yogi is accused of sexual assaults on several women. He has adopted veganism and advocates non-violence.

 31 Alfre Woodard

Alfre Woodard.
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: November 8, 1952
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Alfre Woodard is an American actress. Considered one of the most accomplished and versatile actresses of her generation, Woodard was named in The New York Times' The 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century list in 2020. Also a political activist, Woodard is credited with founding Artists for a New South Africa, which aims at advancing equality in South Africa.

 32 Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk.
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Birthdate: May 22, 1930
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Woodmere
Died: November 27, 1978
LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk became California’s first openly gay elected official when he became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were later assassinated by politician Dan White. Milk's story later inspired the 2008 biopic Milk.

 33 Marlo Thomas

Marlo Thomas
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: November 21, 1937
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, USA

 34 Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden.
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Famous As: Political Activist
Birthdate: December 11, 1939
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Royal Oak, Michigan
Died: October 23, 2016

Tom Hayden was a prominent social/political activist, and a champion for civil rights and anti-war campaigns. Also known as Jane Fonda’s ex-husband, he had contributed to the Port Huron Statement and stood trial in the Chicago Seven Case. He was part of the California State Assembly and the California Senate.

 35 Carroll O’Connor

Carroll O’Connor.
4
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: The Bronx, New York, United States
Died: June 21, 2001

Carroll O'Connor was an American actor, director, and producer. In a TV career that spanned 40 years, O'Connor popularized several fictional characters, including Archie Bunker from the sitcom All in the Family, for which he received four Emmy Awards. In 1996, he was ranked 38th on the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list published by TV Guide.

 36 Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein.
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: May 8, 1970
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker Naomi Klein is known for her criticism of corporate globalization and capitalism. She became internationally known following the release of her alter-globalization book No Logo. She often appears on global and national lists of top influential thinkers and is the recipient of the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize. She is a prominent environmentalist as well.

 37 Valerie Harper

Valerie Harper.
6
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: August 22, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Suffern, New York
Valerie Harper is best remembered as Rhoda Morgenstern from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off, Rhoda, with the role winning her four Emmys. She also hosted Nova and was seen as Valerie Hogan in the sitcom Valerie. She also earned a Tony nomination for the play Looped.

 38 Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King.
10
Famous As: Civil Rights Activist, Author
Birthdate: April 27, 1927
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Heiberger
Died: January 30, 2006

The American civil rights activist was an ideal foil for her famous husband Martin Luther King Jr. in promoting racial equality. The author and singer led the Women's Movement and fought for the rights of the LGBT community. She was also known for mobilising African-Americans during the 1960 US presidential election. She founded the King Centre, a not-for-profit organization.

 39 Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov.
8
Famous As: Chess Player
Birthdate: April 13, 1963
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Baku

Garry Kasparov is a Russian chess player. A grandmaster, Kasparov is a former World Chess Champion who was ranked No. 1 for 255 months during his career that spanned 21 years. After his retirement, Garry Kasparov focused on writing and politics; he founded a social movement called the United Civil Front, which is part of an opposition coalition in Moscow.

 40 Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig.
4
Famous As: Comedian, Writer
Birthdate: May 3, 1958
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Copenhagen
Sandi Toksvig is best known as the host of shows such as News Quiz, QI, and The Great British Bake Off. The Women's Equality Party co-founder is also a lesbian icon and has written several children’s and adult books and plays. She hosted a motivational podcast during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

 41 Serj Tankian

Serj Tankian.
5
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: August 21, 1967
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Beirut, Lebanon

Serj Tankian is an Armenian-American record producer, singer, and songwriter. Tankian is credited with co-founding the popular band System of a Down. Renowned for his wide vocal range and unusual delivery, Serj Tankian is widely considered one of the best heavy metal vocalists of all time. Also a political activist, Tankian co-founded Axis of Justice, a non-profit organization.

 42 Afeni Shakur

Afeni Shakur.
7
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: January 10, 1947
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lumberton, North Carolina
Died: May 2, 2016

Afeni Shakur was a political activist best known as the mother of legendary rapper Tupac Shakur. Afeni Shakur was an important member of the popular political organization Black Panther Party where she mentored new members like Jamal Joseph, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Cleo Silvers.

 43 Lena Horne

Lena Horne.
4
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: June 30, 1917
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bedford-Stuyvesant
Died: May 9, 2010

Lena Horne was an American singer, actress, dancer, and civil rights activist. Horne's 70-year acting career was embellished with several prestigious awards, such as Grammy Awards. Her life and career were depicted in many stage shows, where she was portrayed by actresses like Leslie Uggams, Nikki Crawford, and Ryan Jillian.

 44 Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune.
3
Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: July 10, 1875
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mayesville, South Carolina, United States
Died: May 18, 1955

 45 Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers.
6
Birthdate: July 2, 1925
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Decatur, Mississippi U.S.
Died: June 12, 1963
American civil rights activist Medgar Evers was the NAACP field secretary of Mississippi state. He has also served the U.S. Army during World War II. He worked toward securing voting rights for all and to end racial segregation. He was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith in 1963. 

 46 Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader.
4
Famous As: Political Activist, Attorney
Birthdate: February 27, 1934
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Winsted, Connecticut, U.S
Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed was his critique of the safety measures of U.S. automobile manufacturers. His activism has led to the passage of acts such as the Consumer Product Safety Act. One of Time’s 100 Most Influential Americans, he inspired the documentary An Unreasonable Man

 47 Steve Biko

Steve Biko.
4
Famous As: Anti-apartheid Activist
Birthdate: December 18, 1946
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Ginsberg, South Africa
Died: September 12, 1977

Civil rights activist Steve Biko, or the Father of Black Consciousness, is remembered for his work against apartheid in South Africa. He founded the Black Consciousness Movement while still a medical school student. He was banned by the pro-apartheid regime in 1973. He was beaten to death in custody.

 48 Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson
9
Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: August 24, 1945
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA
Died: July 6, 1992

 49 Joanna Lumley

Joanna Lumley.
8
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: May 1, 1946
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Srinagar

Joanna Lumley is a British actress and prolific activist. In recognition of her work as part of the Gurkha Justice Campaign, Joanna is fondly called as the daughter of Nepal in Nepal. Also known for supporting various other charity organizations and animal welfare groups, Joanna Lumley was appointed an OBE in the 1995 New Year Honours by the queen.

 50 Gary Burghoff

Gary Burghoff.
4
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: May 24, 1943
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bristol, Connecticut

Gary Burghoff is an American actor who is credited with originating the popular role of Charlie Brown in the 1967 Broadway musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He is also known for originating the role of Walter Eugene O'Reilly in the 1970 black comedy war movie MASH and the popular TV series of the same name.