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.
(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 
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.

 6 

Hunter Schafer
9
Birthdate: 1999 AD
Birthplace: Raleigh, North Carolina

A promising young actress, model and LGBT rights activist, Hunter Schafer found fame with her debut role - Jules - in the HBO series Euphoria. Before this, she made a name for herself in the modelling industry working for famous designers and brands. A proud transgender woman, she has been fighting for the rights of LGBTQ since a long time.

 7 
Edward Snowden
(Whistleblower, Writer)

Edward Snowden
5
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 
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.

 9 
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.

 10 
Ashley Judd
(Best Known for Her Role in the Movie 'Double Jeopardy')

Ashley Judd
4
Birthdate: April 19, 1968
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: 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.

 11 
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. 

 12 
Alyssa Milano
(Actress and Political Activist Known for Her Role in the 'MeToo Movement')

Alyssa Milano
4
Birthdate: December 19, 1972
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Bensonhurst, New York, United States
An unexpected audition led a young Alyssa Milano to her role in touring musical Annie. She became a teen star with sitcom Who's the Boss?. A bit of struggle later, she finally bagged her big break as an adult in the television show Charmed. Alyssa Milano is also a political activist and UNICEF Ambassador.

 13 
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

 14 

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

 15 
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.

 16 
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.

 17 
Daryl Hannah
(Actress Best Known for Her Role in the Films: 'Kill Bill', 'Blade Runner' and 'Splash')

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.

 18 
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.

 19 
Sojourner Truth
(Women's rights activist)

Sojourner Truth
8
Birthdate: 1797 AD
Birthplace: Rifton, New York, United States
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.

 20 
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.

 21 
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.

 22 
Common
(Rapper)

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

 23 
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.

 24 
Johnnie Cochran
(American Lawyer and Civil Activist Best Known for Defending and Acquitting 'O. J. Simpson')

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.

 25 
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.

 26 
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.  

 27 
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.

 28 
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.

 29 
Muhammad Ali
(The 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.

 30 
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.

 31 
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.

 32 
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.

 33 
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.

 34 
Elizabeth Smart
(Child Safety Activist and Commentator for 'ABC News')

Elizabeth Smart
13
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.

 35 
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.

 36 
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.

 37 
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.

 38 
Marlo Thomas
(Actress)

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

 39 
Jazz Jennings
(LGBTQ Rights Activist, Internet Personality, Spokesmodel)

Jazz Jennings
6
Birthdate: October 6, 2000
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Florida

 40 
Langston Hughes
(One of the Earliest Innovators of the Literary Art Form Called Jazz Poetry)

Langston Hughes
4
Birthdate: February 1, 1901
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.

 41 
Zack de la Rocha
(Vocalist and Lyricist of the Rock Band 'Rage Against the Machine')

Zack de la Rocha
9
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. 

 42 

Marcheline Bertrand
4
Birthdate: May 9, 1950
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Blue Island, Illinois, United States
Died: January 27, 2007

Marcheline Bertrand was an American actress. The former wife of Jon Voight and the mother of Angelina Jolie, Marcheline Bertrand had a brief acting career. She had a greater impact as a humanitarian as she co-founded an organization called All Tribes Foundation in an attempt to provide economic and cultural benefits to Native Americans.

 43 

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.

 44 
Shailene Woodley
(Actress & Environmental Activist)

Shailene Woodley
19
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

 45 
Russell Simmons
(Founder of the hip-hop music label Def Jam)

Russell Simmons
4
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.

 46 
Jack London
(Novelist & Journalist)

Jack London
4
Birthdate: January 12, 1876
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
Died: November 22, 1916

Jack London was an American novelist, social activist, and journalist. A pioneer of American magazines and commercial fiction, London was one of the first authors from the US to become an international celebrity. His life and work inspired several films, such as the 1943 movie Jack London and 1980 film Klondike Fever. He was also portrayed in several TV series.

 47 
Cynthia Nixon
(Actress)

Cynthia Nixon
5
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.

 48 
Harvey Milk
(Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from the 5th district (1978))

Harvey Milk
4
Birthdate: May 22, 1930
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Woodmere, New York, United States
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.

 49 

Carroll O’Connor
5
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.

 50 

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.