Famous 20th Century Human Rights Activists

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 Human Rights Activists

 1 Malcolm X

Malcolm X.
4
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.

 2 Michael Bolton

Michael Bolton.
6
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.

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 3 Zack de la Rocha

Zack de la Rocha.
6
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. 

 4 Mike Farrell

Mike Farrell.
6
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: February 6, 1939
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Mike Farrell is an American actor known for playing, Captain B.J. Hunnicutt, in the popular war comedy-drama TV series, M*A*S*H. Farrell's journey from being born into a working-class family to becoming a famous Hollywood actor is quite inspiring. Also a political and social activist, Farrell has worked on several activist campaigns. In 2001, he was honored with PETA's Humanitarian Award.

 5 K. D. Lang

K. D. Lang.
6
Famous As: Singer, Songwriter
Birthdate: November 2, 1961
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Grammy-winning Canadian pop and country singer Kathryn Dawn Lang, better known as K.D. Lang, has delivered hits such as Constant Craving. She is openly lesbian and a champion for LGBT rights and animal rights. She performed at the 1988 Winter Olympics closing ceremony and the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

 6 Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III.
4
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: October 23, 1957
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama
The American civil rights activist has continued his legendary father Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for racial equality. Martin Luther King III headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by his father and endorsed Barack Obama’s nomination for American presidency. King fought against police brutality, but he also denounced capital punishment, saying he did not belive in retributional justice.

 7 Laurie Holden

Laurie Holden.
6
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: December 17, 1969
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California

Laurie Holden is an American-Canadian model, actress, and producer. She is best known for her portrayal of Andrea in the popular horror television series The Walking Dead, for which she received the 2012 Satellite Award and 2013 Saturn Award. Also known for her human rights activism and charity work, Laurie Holden works closely with organizations that campaign against human trafficking.

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 8 Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei.
6
Famous As: Artist
Birthdate: August 28, 1957
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Beijing
Named Art Review’s most powerful artist in 2011, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has become a symbol of resilience against the authoritarian Chinese government. Jailed and banned from leaving the country once, he is known for using various media, such as sculpture, photos, and documentaries, to reflect Chinese human-rights abuses.

 9 Jorja Fox

Jorja Fox.
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: July 7, 1968
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: New York City, New York

 10 Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry
4
Famous As: Writer, Theatre director, Screenwriter, Playwright, Human rights activist
Birthdate: May 19, 1930
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Chicago
Died: January 12, 1965

 11 Yolanda King

Yolanda King.
9
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: November 17, 1955
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama
Died: May 15, 2007

African American activist, Yolanda King, was the first-born child of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Exposed to social justice activism at a young age, she grew up to be an outspoken supporter of civil rights and LGBTQA+ rights. She was also known for her artistic endeavors. She died of heart disease at 51. 

 12 Jello Biafra

Jello Biafra
6
Famous As: Singer, Actor, Human rights activist, Politician, Journalist
Birthdate: June 17, 1958
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Boulder

 13 Graça Machel

Graça Machel.
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: October 17, 1945
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Portuguese Mozambique

Graça Machel is known for her association with Mozambique’s FRELIMO movement and has been the country’s first education minister. She has also been married to both former Mozambican president Samora Machel and South African president Nelson Mandela. Through The Elders, she is devoted to working for women’s and children’s rights.

 14 Ed Roberts

Ed Roberts
3
Famous As: American disability rights activist
Birthdate: January 23, 1939
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: San Mateo, California
Died: March 14, 1995

 15 Rigoberta Menchú

Rigoberta Menchú.
3
Famous As: Activist,Politician,Author
Birthdate: January 9, 1959
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Laj Chimel

Nobel Peace Prize-winning Guatemalan activist is known for her fight for the rights of indigenous people and women. Her entire family was accused of participating in guerrilla activities, brutalized, and killed by the Guatemalan army. She has been a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and founded the first Guatemalan indigenous political party.

 16 Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick.
3
Birthdate: October 23, 1942
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Littlehampton
Died: September 10, 2007

Anita Roddick was a British businesswoman and human rights activist. She was also a passionate crusader for environmental issues. She founded the British version of The Body Shop, now The Body Shop International Limited. Her company was among the first to prohibit the use of ingredients tested on animals in some products. She was also involved with Greenpeace.  

 17 Mahasweta Devi

Mahasweta Devi
3
Famous As: Human rights activist, Writer, Poet, Novelist, Educator, Short story writer
Birthdate: January 14, 1926
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Dhaka
Died: July 28, 2016

Ramon Magsaysay Award-winning Indian author Mahasweta Devi is regarded as a gem of the Bengali literary world. She had also been a left-wing social activist, and her works such as Hajar Churashir Maa and Rudali have either tribals or people from the marginalized communities as their protagonists.

 18 Anna Politkovskaya

Anna Politkovskaya
3
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: August 30, 1958
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: October 7, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian writer, journalist, and human rights activist. She is best remembered for reporting the Second Chechen War. In spite of various acts of intimidation and violence, Politkovskaya never gave up reporting on the war. Her efforts and work earned her several international awards, such as the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award. Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006.

 19 Geronimo Pratt

Geronimo Pratt
3
Famous As: Civil rights advocate, Human rights activist, Vietnam veteran
Birthdate: September 13, 1947
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Morgan City
Died: June 3, 2011

 20 Ella Baker

Ella Baker
3
Famous As: American activist
Birthdate: December 13, 1903
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Norfolk, Virginia, United States
Died: December 13, 1986

 21 Ophelia Dahl

Ophelia Dahl
3
Famous As: Human rights activist
Birthdate: May 12, 1964
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Oxford

 22 Alan Lomax

Alan Lomax.
3
Famous As: Folklorist
Birthdate: January 31, 1915
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Austin
Died: July 19, 2002

 23 Dame Christabel Harriette Pankhurst

Dame Christabel Harriette Pankhurst
3
Famous As: Militant
Birthdate: September 22, 1880
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Died: February 13, 1958

 24 Iris Chang

Iris Chang
3
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: March 28, 1968
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Princeton, New Jersey, United States
Died: November 9, 2004

 25 Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi.
3
Famous As: Human Rights Activist
Birthdate: June 21, 1947
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hamadan

Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist and lawyer Shirin Ebadi is known for her significant work with refugees, women, and children, and her countless books, such as Iran Awakening. In spite of being Iran’s first female judge, she found it difficult to establish herself in the male-dominated profession.

 26 Walter Sisulu

Walter Sisulu
3
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: May 18, 1912
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Ngcobo, South Africa
Died: May 5, 2003

Walter Sisulu was a South African activist who played an important role in the anti-apartheid movement. Counted among the most important members of the ANC, Sisulu served more than 25 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities. For his contribution to the success of the ANC, Sisulu was honored with the prestigious Isitwalandwe Seaparankoe in 1992.

 27 Bogd Khan

Bogd Khan
3
Famous As: Mongolian head of state
Birthdate: 1869 AD
Birthplace: Litang, Sichuan, Qing Dynasty
Died: May 20, 1924

 28 Walter Reuther

Walter Reuther
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: September 1, 1907
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wheeling, USA
Died: May 9, 1970

 29 Charles Perkins

Charles Perkins.
3
Famous As: Soccer player
Birthdate: June 16, 1936
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Alice Springs
Died: October 18, 2000

Charles Perkins had initially been a footballer who played for teams such as Everton and coached Pan-Hellenic to fund his university studies. He later gained recognition as an Aboriginal activist after organizing the Freedom Ride to protest against racial discrimination and became the Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

 30 Vladimir Bukovsky

Vladimir Bukovsky
3
Famous As: Writer, Human rights activist
Birthdate: December 30, 1942
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Belebey

Vladimir Bukovsky was a Russian-born British writer and human rights activist. An important member of the Soviet dissident movement, Bukovsky spent 12 years in prisons, psychiatric prison-hospitals, and labor camps of the Soviet Union. A neurophysiologist, Bukovsky is celebrated for his efforts to expose Soviet Union's political abuse of psychiatry. In 2001, he was awarded the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.

 31 Chico Mendes

Chico Mendes
3
Famous As: Brazilian environmentalist
Birthdate: December 15, 1944
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Xapuri, Brazil
Died: December 22, 1988

 32 Sugathakumari

Sugathakumari
3
Famous As: Writer, Human rights activist, Children's writer
Birthdate: January 3, 1934
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Aranmula

Sugathakumari was an Indian activist and poet who played a major role in Kerala's feminist and environmental movements in the late-1970s. She is credited with founding organizations like Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi and Abhaya, which work towards protecting nature and safeguarding women and the mentally ill respectively. During her lifetime, she was honored with several prestigious awards like the Padma Shri.

 33 Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky
3
Famous As: Politician, Writer, Mathematician, Human rights activist
Birthdate: January 20, 1948
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Donetsk

 34 Jacob M. Appel

Jacob M. Appel
3
Famous As: Historian, Novelist, Writer, Playwright, Medical writer, Human rights activist, Journalist
Birthdate: February 21, 1973
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: New York City

Author and bioethicist Jacob M. Appel gained fame with his award-winning first novel The Man Who Wouldn't Stand Up. Also known for his essays and short stories, he has seven masters degrees, in subjects ranging from American history to public health. He is also a practicing psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai Health System.

 35 Asma Jahangir

Asma Jahangir
3
Famous As: Human rights activist, Lawyer
Birthdate: January 27, 1952
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Karachi

 36 Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Oodgeroo Noonuccal
3
Famous As: Poet, Author, Human rights activist, Writer
Birthdate: November 3, 1920
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Stradbroke Island
Died: September 16, 1993

Oodgeroo Noonuccal was an Aboriginal Australian poet, political activist, artist, and educator. She became the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse. She emerged as a prominent political activist in the 1960s and campaigned for aboriginal rights. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire and won many literary awards.

 37 Maziar Bahari

Maziar Bahari
3
Famous As: Film director, Journalist, Human rights activist
Birthdate: May 25, 1967
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Tehran

Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari is also a human rights activist and an Emmy-winning filmmaker. He has won honors such as the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award. His book Then They Came for Me was a bestseller, while he has made films such as And Along Came a Spider, mirroring Iran’s society.

 38 Hussein-Ali Montazeri

Hussein-Ali Montazeri
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 22, 1922
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Iran
Died: December 20, 2009

 39 Frances Lear

Frances Lear
3
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: July 14, 1923
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Hudson, New York, United States
Died: September 30, 1996

 40 Charles W. Chesnutt

Charles W. Chesnutt
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 20, 1858
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Died: November 17, 1932

 41 Peter Benenson

Peter Benenson
3
Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: July 31, 1921
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: February 25, 2005

 42 Shirley Graham Du Bois

Shirley Graham Du Bois
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 11, 1896
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Died: March 27, 1977

 43 Fazle Hasan Abed

Fazle Hasan Abed.
2
Famous As: Social Worker
Birthdate: April 27, 1936
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Habiganj

Fazle Hasan Abed was a Bangladeshi social worker credited with founding one of the largest non-governmental organizations in the world, BRAC. For his significant contributions to social development, Abed was honored with many national and international awards, including the Laudato Si' Award and LEGO Prize. In 2014 and 2017, he was included in Fortune magazine's World's 50 Greatest Leaders list.

 44 Roy Campbell

Roy Campbell
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: October 2, 1901
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: April 23, 1957

 45 Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
2
Famous As: Human Rights Activist
Birthdate: November 26, 1931
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Buenos Aires

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is an Argentine activist, community organizer, writer, painter, and sculptor. He actively opposed Argentina's last civil-military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during which he was subjected to much torture. He was awarded the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for his bravery. He is also a recipient of the Pope John XXIII Peace Memorial. 

 46 Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler
2
Famous As: Lawyer, Politician, Human rights activist, University teacher
Birthdate: May 8, 1940
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Montreal

Apart from teaching law at McGill University, Irwin Cotler has also been a Canadian MP for Mount Royal, the Minister of Justice, and the Attorney General of Canada. He has gained fame as a global human rights lawyer, too, serving as a counsel to prominent political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela.

 47 David Diop

David Diop
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: July 9, 1927
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bordeaux, France
Died: August 29, 1960

 48 Maggie Kuhn

Maggie Kuhn
2
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: August 3, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Buffalo, New York, United States
Died: April 22, 1995

 49 Mihail Sadoveanu

Mihail Sadoveanu
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: November 5, 1880
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Pascani, Moldova, Romania
Died: October 19, 1961

 50 Charlotte Forten Grimké

Charlotte Forten Grimké
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 17, 1837
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died: July 23, 1914