Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
Mary Wollstonecraft grew up constantly moving from place to place, and eventually moved in with her sister after her mother died in 1782. Mary became a governess, and wrote about her experience in 1787, publishing Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. The publication of the book made Wollstonecraft the peer of writers as esteemed as William Blake and Thomas Paine. In 1972 she published her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,which was a rejection of the role that Rousseau assigned to women with the publication of Emile.
2. Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Born enslaved, Sojourner Truth is one of the most well-known advocates for abolition and equality. Truth was highly respected by her peers, which included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass. In the 1826 she escaped slavery, after many brutal beatings and separations from family members. While enslaved, Truth was forced to marry a man that she later had five children, and was sold to numerous slave owners. When she did escape slavery, she had to leave four of her children behind. Sojourner Truth began to travel across the country, and became involved in both the abolition movement and the women’s rights movement. In 1851, she delivered one of the most iconic speeches in American history. Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech was given in Akron, Ohio, at the Women’s Rights Convention.
3. Dred Scott (1799-1858)
In 1957, the case of Dred Scott Vs. Sandford was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court. Scott, an enslaved person, sued for his freedom because he had been taken into a free state and free territory for an extended period of time. His case took 11 years to find the supreme court, and when it finally did, was shot down. The court decided that because Dred Scott was a Black man, he was not an American citizen, and therefore did not have the right to sue. The Court also ruled that Congress did not have the right to prohibit slavery in any state or territory, reversing the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which made Minnesota a free state, and gave Scott his grounds to fight for his freedom.
4. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
Frederick Douglass learned how to read and write by secretly taking lessons from his owner’s wife. When his “master” discovered the lessons were occurring, he forbade them. This prompted Douglass to learn by watching white children be taught. Once Douglass was able to read, he learned about the fight for abolition. He began to teach other slaves, with weekly lessons that were often interrupted by slave owners who threw stones. Douglass was sent to a “slave breaker” when he was 16, and tried to escape slavery twice before he succeeded. Douglass created an abolitionist newspaper called The North Star, and after the publication of his first autobiography, fled the United States to avoid recapture. In 1847, he was able to return to the U.S., after raising funds to buy his freedom. Douglass is now one of the most famous orators in history.
5. Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
Born into slavery during the civil war, Ida B. Wells’ parents were politically active during the Reconstruction Era. Wells enrolled at Rust College, but was expelled after an argument with the president of the university. In 1878, her parents and brother were killed by yellow fever, and Wells began to raise her siblings, becoming a teacher to support them. In 1884, while living in Memphis, one of her friends was lynched. Wells then turned her attention to white mob violence. In 1892 she published an expose on lynching, enraging white locals who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. She then moved to Chicago. In 1893 she helped to lead a boycott against the World’s Columbian Exposition. Wells continued to travel internationally, speaking about lynching, and would often confront white suffragettes who ignored lynching. She helped to found the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, and was present for the founding of the NAACP.
6. Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, beginning years of a nationwide fight to end segregation. Parks’ grandparents had been enslaved, and were activists. While she was growing up in Alabama, she regularly experienced racism and discrimination. She once recalled the KKK marching down her street when she was a child. She attended segregated schools, and dealt with inadequate school equipment. When Parks was in 11th grade, she left school to care for her sick grandmother and mother. In her early 20s she became involved with the NAACP. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in 1955 prompted the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ended when the Supreme Court declared segregation on public transit systems to be unconstitutional. There was a second boycott the day of Parks’ trial, when nearly every single city bus was empty.
7. Larry Kramer (1935-2020)
Larry Kramer is largely credited with catalyzing the national response to the AIDS crisis. He attended Yale University, but felt so excluded due to his sexuality that he attempted suicide during his first semester. After several years of screenwriting for Columbia Pictures, he was nominated for an Academy Award for a musical adaptation based on James Hiltons’ Lost Horizon. He later moved to New York City, and while there created the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group as a response to the AIDS pandemic. Kramer began to be known for aggressive rhetoric, which was often directed at the government, who Kramer believed contributed to the rapid spread of the epidemic through their apathy. A year after the GMHC was formed, Kramer resigned, and later became close allies with Anthony Fauci, who then worked for the NIH. He then helped to form ACT UP, and staged a blockade of Wall Street after a drug used to help treat AIDS had been prescribed at $10,000 a year. In 2001, the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies was endowed at Yale, but was ended in 2006.
8. John Lewis (1940-2020)
The son of sharecroppers, Rep. John Lewis wrote a letter to MLK when he was 18 years old. King wrote back– and included an invitation and a round trip bus ticket to Montgomery. In 1961, Lewis became a freedom rider, and in 1963 helped to plan the March on Washington, which Lewis was the youngest speaker at. In 1965, during the march from Selma to Montgomery, he was severely beaten, and experienced a fractured skull. That day, now known as “Bloody Sunday,” catalyzed the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1986, Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives, representing Georgia’s 5th district. While in Congress he worked on healthcare reform and education, and many renewals of the Voting Rights Act. He passed away on July 17, 2020.
9. Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
Marsha P. Johnson was an activist who played an undeniable part in the AIDS movement, as well as the LGBTQ+ rights movement. After high school, she moved to New York City with $15 to her name. After the 1969 Stonewall riot, Johnson became a key figure in the gay rights movement. She founded the organization STAR to help young transgender people like herself, and in 1975 posed for Andy Warhol and was included in his polaroid portfolio Ladies and Gentlemen. Johnson helped to found the first LGBT youth shelter, and was heavily involved with ACT UP. A monument dedicated to her will open in New York in 2020.
10. Greta Thunberg (2003-Living)
Thunberg is making history before our eyes. In August of 2018,
Greta Thunberg, then 15 years old, started a movement. She skipped
school, with a sign that read “School Strike for Climate.” Now, two
years later, Thunberg has spoken at the U.N., and 4 million people who were inspired by her actions also participated in a climate strike on September 20, 2019. She has described her Asperger’s syndrome as a gift, as it makes her different, which she says is a “superpower.” In 2019, she was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
If there is any one character trait required of an activist– it just might be resilience. Below are short biographies of 10 different activists, ordered from oldest to youngest. The activists were not chosen for any particular reason, and there are thousands more who could have been profiled. Many of the struggles faced by these activists could not be placed into one short biography, resulting in the absence of some events from this article.
A Brief History of The Pride March
June 14, 2020
1969. The year GAP was founded, man first walked on the moon, Woodstock was held, Abbey Road was released, and the pride march began.
The now infamous Stonewall riots began on June 28th of 1969, and continued until July 3rd of the same year. Five days of long awaited rebellion, triggered by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn– a bar in Greenwich Village which was (and still is today) known as a safe place for those in the LGBTQ+ community. The night of July 27th, 1969, nine undercover police officers arrested 13 people in the bar– both patrons and employees. As the crowd outside watched those arrested patrons and employees be shoved into police cars, they became angry, and began to yell and throw debris. This prompted the police to call for “reinforcement” and hide inside of the bar, while nearly 400 people gathered outside and began to riot. Once a barricade set up by police had been breached, and the Stonewall Inn had been set on fire, the reinforcement that had been called earlier dispersed the crowds and set out the fire. However, this was not the end. For five days after that night, activists such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Micheal Brown, and hundreds more, fought for LGBTQ+ rights in a country where it was illegal to practice “homosexual activities” in 49 states.
One year after Stonewall, on June 28th of 1970, the first pride march took place. The first march, called “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” was put together by activists from the Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods, an organization run by Craig Rodwell, and Lavender Menace, an organization created to ensure that lesbians were included in the feminist movement. The march began as a few hundred people gathered outside the Stonewall Inn, but eventually grew, peaking at a crowd of people three quarters of a mile long. When word spread to Los Angeles, a “Christopher Street West” pride celebration was held on Hollywood Boulevard.
Fifty years later, the annual New York City Pride March still attracts millions of marchers, with parades held all across the country, in even the smallest streets of the smallest towns.