Famous American Activists

Martin Luther King, Jr. would probably be one of the first names that come to mind when we talk of American activists. The leader in the African American Civil Rights Movement, he played a pivotal role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. Malcolm X was another significant figure in human rights activism who has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. Frederick Douglass, a firm believer in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, or Native American, was a former slave who rose to become a prominent social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman after making good his escape from his owners. America has also had several feminists including Susan B. Anthony, Alice Stone Blackwell, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Emma Goldman who fought determinedly for equal rights for women. Of late social justice movements like LGBT activism and Animal Rights activism are also gaining momentum in the American society. LGBT activist Gilbert Baker designed the Rainbow Flag that is often used as a symbol of pride in LGBT rights marches while philosopher Tom Regan is a prominent proponent of animal rights movement. This section provides you information about the life and works of famous American Activists.

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, Minister
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 Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman
13
Famous As: Abolitionist and Political activist
Birthdate: February 29, 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.

 3 Malcolm X

Malcolm X
23
Famous As: Muslim minister and human rights 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.

 4 Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix
4
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: October 28, 1974
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix is widely regarded as one of the most talented actors of his generation. In his career of four decades, he has starred in numerous films playing characters that have become memorable. These include movies like Gladiator, Joker, Walk the Line and Her. The acclaimed actor is also a social activist, environmentalist, animal rights activist and producer.

 5 Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin
5
Famous As: Singer & Activist
Birthdate: March 25, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Died: August 16, 2018

Widely regarded as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin was a singer-songwriter, actress, and civil rights activist. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Aretha was ranked number one on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list in 2010. Having sold over 75 million records, she is also one of the best-selling musicians ever.

 6 Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley
21
Famous As: Actress, Activist
Birthdate: November 15, 1991
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: San Bernardino County, California, United States

A child model at four and a television actor at eight, Shailene Woodley began working early and found fame with The Descendants, The Spectacular Now and the Divergent film series. She later gained tremendous appreciation for her work in the movie The Fault in Our Stars and HBO series Big Little Lies. The award winning actress is also an environmentalist and activist

 7 Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden
4
Famous As: Computer Professional, Former CIA Employee
Birthdate: June 21, 1983
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Elizabeth City, North Carolina, United States

A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who came into the limelight after leaking confidential information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, Edward Snowden has been variously called a “hero", “whistle-blower", and “traitor". A controversial figure in USA, he was granted asylum in Russia, where he now lives with his wife.

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 8 Helen Keller

Helen Keller
5
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.

 9 Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks
18
Famous As: Activist
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.

 10 Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan
4
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: May 16, 1953
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Drogheda, Ireland

Irish-American actor and film producer Pierce Brosnan is best known for playing secret agent James Bond in the Bond film series. As a young man, he trained at the Drama Centre London and made his acting debut soon after. First gaining fame as a TV actor, he didn’t take long to enter films as well.

 11 Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda
5
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: December 21, 1937
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States

Jane Fonda is hailed as one of the best actresses ever and has won two Oscars. She has acted in popular and acclaimed films like Barefoot in the Park, Barbarella, Klute, Coming Home, Julia, The Morning After, The China Syndrome and California Suite. She’s also known for her exercise videos and is famous for her opposition to the Vietnam War.

 12 Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick
5
Famous As: American Football Quarterback
Birthdate: November 3, 1987
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

An American professional football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick began playing for 49ers’ as a backup quarterback and later played a pivotal role in them reaching the 2013 NFL championship. Also a civil rights activist, he attracted a lot praise and criticism when in 2016, he refused to stand for the US national anthem as a form of protest against racial injustice.

 13 Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson
5
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: April 30, 1933
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Abbott, Texas, United States

An accomplished musician and one of the most popular names of the late 20th century American country music, Willie Nelson garnered fame with his albums Shotgun Willie, Red Headed Stranger, Stardust and Always on My Mind. The multiple Grammy award winning musician, who continues to record even today, has also appeared in numerous films and authored a number of books.

 14 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky
6
Famous As: Linguist
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.

 15 Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony
9
Famous As: Women’s Rights Activist
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.

 16 Joan Chandos Baez

Joan Chandos Baez
8
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: January 9, 1941
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Staten Island, New York, United States

Singer, songwriter, musician, and activist Joan Baez has been active in the music world for over six decades. She emerged as a major musical figure in the counterculture era of the 1960s. Her music encompasses various genres like pop, folk-rock, country, and gospel music. She is involved in civil rights, human rights, and environmental activism as well.

 17 Susan Sarandon

Susan Sarandon
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: October 4, 1946
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Jackson Heights, New York, United States

Susan Sarandon is hailed as one of the best actresses of her time. She has starred in many acclaimed Hollywood films like Bull Durham, Thelma and Louise, Atlantic City and Lorenzo's Oil. In 1995 she won an Oscar for Dead Man Walking. She’s also a political activist and has often protested against issues like war, gun violence and migrant separation policy.

 18 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. 

 19 Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox
8
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: May 29, 1972
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Mobile, Alabama, United States

 20 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.

 21 Geena Davis

Geena Davis
4
Famous As: Actress
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.

 22 Jessica Lange

Jessica Lange
6
Famous As: Actress & Producer
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.

 23 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.

 24 Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd
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Famous As: Actress, Political activist
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.

 25 Daryl Hannah

Daryl Hannah
4
Famous As: Actress
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.

 26 Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth
4
Famous As: American women's rights activist
Birthdate: December 1, 1797
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Swartekill, New York
Died: November 26, 1883

Sojourner Truth was an American women's rights activist and abolitionist. Born into slavery, Truth escaped to freedom in 1826. She then approached the court to recover her son, subsequently becoming the first black woman to emerge successful against a white man in such a case. In 2014, she was named in Smithsonian's 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time list.

 27 Forest Whitaker

Forest Whitaker
4
Famous As: Actor
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.

 28 Fran Drescher

Fran Drescher
5
Famous As: Actress, Comedian
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.

 29 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.

 30 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.

 31 Pauley Perrette

Pauley Perrette
20
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.

 32 Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie
15
Famous As: Actress
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.

 33 Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke
4
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: September 16, 1956
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Schenectady, New York, United States
An amateur boxer in his early days, Mickey Rourke later deviated to acting, mostly starring in action movies and thrillers. He went back to his former love, boxing, in 1991, only to retire in 1994. He then stunned his fans with his Academy Award-nominated role in The Wrestler.

 34 Johnnie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran
4
Famous As: Lawyer
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.

 35 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.

 36 Yara Shahidi

Yara Shahidi
4
Famous As: Actress, Model
Birthdate: January 31, 2000
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Yara Shahidi is best known as Zoey Johnson from Black-ish and Grown-ish. She started off as a model for brands such as McDonald's and GapKids, at age 6. One of Time’s “30 Most Influential Teens of 2016," she was also appreciated in the film The Sun Is Also a Star.

 37 Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart
12
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: November 3, 1987
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

Elizabeth Smart is a child safety activist who gained national attention when she was kidnapped from her home at the age of 14. She was held captive for nine months before she was rescued by the cops. Smart went on to become an activist and works against human trafficking and abduction. In 2011, she became the founder of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation.

 38 Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams
4
Famous As: Model, Actor, Activist
Birthdate: August 5, 1981
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Jesse Williams is best known as Dr. Jackson Avery from Grey's Anatomy. He has also been part of films such as The Cabin in the Woods and The Butler, and has done voice-work for video games such as Markus in Detroit: Become Human. Williams is also associated with Black activism.

 39 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.

 40 Common

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

 41 Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson
0
Famous As: Actor, Activist
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.

 42 Bradley Whitford

Bradley Whitford
4
Famous As: Actor
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.

 43 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.

 44 Linda McCartney

Linda McCartney
5
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.  

 45 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.

 46 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.

 47 Zack de la Rocha

Zack de la Rocha
9
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: January 12, 1970
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Long Beach, California, United States

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. 

 48 George Takei

George Takei
5
Famous As: Actor, Activist
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.

 49 Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: April 9, 1966
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, United States

Apart from being one of the most popular American actresses, Cynthia Nixon is also a well-known activist. Being an openly bisexual actress, she also serves as an inspiration to the LGBTQ community. Cynthia is a cancer survivor and continues to inspire people affected with cancer.

 50 Ali MacGraw

Ali MacGraw
4
Famous As: Actress
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.