Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954, was a Mexican-Hungarian painter best known for her surreal self-portraits. Following a tragic bus accident when she was 18, Kahlo began to paint while she was in rehabilitation. Her work reflected Mexican indigenous folk art roots, themes of passion and pain, and feminist elements. Kahlo was bisexual, married to famed painter Diego Rivera, and active in the Mexican Communist party. Half a century after her death, her paintings currently bring in more money than those of any other female artist.
The 14th Dalai Lama, 1935 - , is the most influential leader in Tibetan Buddhism and has lived in exile since the Tibetan Uprising against China in 1959. Born Lhamo Dondrub, the 14th Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of his 13 predecessors; he began to lead at just 15 years old. When he fled to India and established the Government of Tibet in Exile, some 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed. A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama continues to be a celebrated human rights activist, advocate for interfaith dialogue and religious harmony, and proponent of democracy, environmental conservation, non-violence and the dismantling of nuclear weaponry.
Jane Goodall, 1934 - , is a British primatologist and anthropologist considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. Best known for her 45-year study of chimpanzee social and family structures in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, Goodall’s research revolutionized our understanding of the similarities between chimp and human behavior. An outspoken animal welfare, animal rights and wildlife conservation activist, Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 to continue research in Gombe Stream and to develop communities and conservation efforts in Africa. Goodall is a United Nations Messenger of Peace and spends 300 days a year traveling, focusing mainly on advocacy for preservation of wild chimpanzees and their habitats.
Malcolm X, 1925 – 1965, was an African American Muslim minister, leader and human rights activist. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha Nebraska, he changed his last name to “X” to symbolize his unknown African family name stolen by the masters of his ancestors. X harshly criticized white America for its crimes against black Americans in his early years as a public speaker; his addresses became more inclusive and unifying later in his career. During his life, X spent time in prison, joined and left the Nation of Islam, identified as a Communist, practiced Sunni Islam and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and authored an autobiography that Time named one of the top ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. At the age of 39, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York.
Shirley Chisholm, 1924 – 2005, was an American politician and educator and became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968, representing New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms. Chisholm was born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents, and spent her primary school years in Barbados, her mother’s home country. In 1972, she was the first Black American to run on a major-party ticket for the presidential nomination, and the first woman to run for the same office on the Democratic ticket; that year, she survived three assassination attempts. Chisholm was one of the founding members of the Democratic Black Caucus, and her voting record reflected advocacy for inner-city youth, education, health care, and reductions in military spending, including opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft. Though Chisholm broke many barriers in U.S. politics, she was quoted as saying, “I don't want be remembered as the first black woman who went to Congress….I want to be remembered as a woman who fought for change in the twentieth century.”
Harvey Milk, 1930 – 1978, was an American politician who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California; Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors after three failed election attempts. A Korean War veteran, Milk lived in New York most of his life, and was not open about his sexual orientation and did not engage in political action until his 40s. It wasn’t until he moved to San Francisco’s Castro District at the age of 42 that he fully came out of the closet and became actively involved in local government and civic matters. After serving 11 months on the Board of Supervisors and pushing forward a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city, Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall in 1978.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 1945 - , is a Burmese politician who was held under house arrest for 15 years; she was released in 2010. The daughter of Burmese Independence Leader Aung San, Suu Kyi became engaged in the country’s democracy uprising in 1988. After a military coup, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was formed and Suu Kyi was appointed General Secretary, calling for freedom and democracy. In the 1990 elections, Suu Kyi began campaigning for the NLD; the Burmese dictatorship quickly detained her. Suu Kyi and her party won a staggering 82% of the seats in Parliament, but the dictatorship refused to hand over power, and kept Suu Kyi in detention on and off for 15 years, where she was an icon for resistance and democracy in Burma and around the world. She has received, in absentia, numerous awards for her activism, including the Nobel Peace Price in 1991.
Cesar Chavez, 1927 – 1993, was a Mexican American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist. With Dolores Huerta, Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers organization and was based on principles of non-violence utilized by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Chavez and the UFW made tremendous progress in securing higher wages and better working conditions for U.S. farm workers, often through large-scale strikes and boycotts. Chavez was charismatic and inspiring, and has become a major historical icon for the Latino/a community, symbolizing support for workers, Latino/a power, and grass-roots organizing. His well-known slogan, “Sí, se puede” (Spanish for “Yes, it’s possible” or, “Yes, it can be done”) can still be heard today at liberal rallies across the country, and, indeed, around the world.
Wilma Mankiller, 1945 – 2010, was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, representing the second largest tribe in the United States. As a child, Mankiller and her family were forced to leave their home in Oklahoma and move to California as part of the U.S. government’s Indian relocation policy. This loss of connection to her home, along with the Native American student occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969 both contributed to Mankiller’s passion for tribal advocacy. As an educator and active leader in her community, Mankiller worked tirelessly for the development of rural and community programs. During her candidacy for Principal Chief, she faced opposition that included numerous death threats. She won the historic 1987 election by a wide margin, and was quoted to say, “Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward. We are able to do that because our culture, though certainly diminished, has sustained us since time immemorial."