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
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 Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman.
10
Famous As: Abolitionist
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.
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.

 4 Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley.
18
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

 5 Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin.
4
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 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.

 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 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.

 9 Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson.
5
Famous As: Musician, Activist
Birthdate: April 29, 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.

 10 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky.
5
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.

 11 Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony.
8
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.

 12 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.

 13 Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky.
7
Famous As: American Television Personality
Birthdate: July 23, 1973
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States

Activist and TV personality, Monica Lewinsky, is a former White House intern who was involved in an affair with Bill Clinton, an incident that later became known as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The scandal brought her international publicity and she eventually became a successful businesswoman. She is also a social activist who speaks against cyberbullying.

 14 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.

 15 Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox
7
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: May 29, 1972
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Mobile, Alabama, United States

 16 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. 

 17 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.

 18 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.

 19 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.

 20 Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur.
5
Famous As: Actress, Activist
Birthdate: May 13, 1922
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: April 25, 2009

American actress Bea Arthur worked extensively in television and was hailed for her comic timing. All in the Family, Maude and The Golden Girls are some of her acclaimed series. In her long career, she also worked in films like Lovers and Other Strangers, History of the World 1 and For Better or Worse. She won many accolades, including two Emmy awards.

 21 Pauley Perrette

Pauley Perrette.
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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.

 22 Fran Drescher

Fran Drescher.
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: September 30, 1957
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Kew Gardens, 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.

 23 Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd.
4
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.

 24 Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie.
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Famous As: Actress, Filmmaker, Activist
Birthdate: June 4, 1975
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, U.S

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.

 25 Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth.
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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.

 26 Kate Walsh

Kate Walsh.
6
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: October 13, 1967
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: San Jose, California, United States
Kate Walsh is best known as Dr. Addison Montgomery from Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. Fans also loved her as Mrs. Baker from the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Kate is also known for her political activism. She has also launched a beauty and lifestyle brand named Boyfriend LLC.

 27 Betty White

Betty White.
10
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: January 17, 1922
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois, United States

Betty White, American actress and comedian, is considered as the pioneer of television and has had the longest television career of any entertainer, straddling more than 80 years. She’s known for her award-winning performances in shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland

 28 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.

 29 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.

 30 Common

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

 31 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.

 32 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.

 33 Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo.
2
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: November 22, 1967
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States

An actor best known for playing Bruce Banner / Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero films, Mark Ruffalo has been active in Hollywood for over three decades. Even though he began acting in the late 1980s, he started getting noticed for his skills only in the 2000s. He has been nominated for numerous awards, including an Academy Award.

 34 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.  

 35 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.

 36 Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart.
11
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.

 37 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.

 38 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.

 39 Ali MacGraw

Ali MacGraw.
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: April 1, 1939
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Pound Ridge, New York

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.

 40 George Takei

George Takei.
5
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.

 41 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.

 42 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. 

 43 Abbie Hoffman

Abbie Hoffman.
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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.

 44 Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass.
2
Famous As: American orator
Birthdate: February 1, 1818
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Talbot County, Maryland, U.S
Died: February 20, 1895

Social reformer and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Born into slavery, he had a difficult early life. Eventually, he managed to escape and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the cause of abolition. He was a great orator and writer.

 45 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.

 46 Indya Moore

Indya Moore
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: January 17, 1995
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: The Bronx, New York, United States

 47 Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou.
3
Famous As: Poet
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.

 48 Patti Smith

Patti Smith.
4
Famous As: Singer & Musician
Birthdate: December 30, 1946
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Patti Smith is an American singer-songwriter. Referred to as the punk poet laureate, Smith became an influential figure of the punk rock movement with the release of her album Horses. Many world-renowned musicians, such as Madonna and Michael Stipe, have cited Smith as their inspiration. Even actresses like Ellen Page and Maria Doyle Kennedy have called Smith a major influence.

 49 Doris Roberts

Doris Roberts.
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: November 4, 1925
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: April 17, 2016

Five-time Emmy Award-winning actor Doris Roberts is best remembered as Marie Barone from the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and as Mildred Krebs from Remington Steele. She also appeared on various talk/game shows and in films such as The Honeymoon Killers. She was a prominent animal rights activist, too.

 50 Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes.
4
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.